Fortunately for the Government, the CSS,2020 has not been enforced yet!

The Times of India carried the following news item today, the 30th April 2021.

It says that the Government of India has “announced a slew of measures for beneficiaries of the ESIC, who are afflicted by Covid-29, including free medical care to insured persons adn their family members in any of the 21 ESI Hospitals ….;;;;”. The news item goes on describing not only the reimbursement facilities but also explains how 70 % of the beneficiary’s average daily wages for a maximum of 91 days could be availed of by them as Sickness Benefit.

If only the Government of India had enforced the Code on Social Security, 2020, which was made law, in an unlawful manner in September 2020, this sort of publicity blitz could not have been made and real medical care could not be extended to the insured persons in a meaningful way. The IPs would then be paid Sickness Benefit only on the basis of the definition of the term ‘Wages’ on the basis of Minimum Wages as per Sec. 2 (y) of the Code on Wages, 2019.

Fortunately the IPs and the Government have been saved by the existing ESI Act, 1948.

Hope the authorities now realise the importance of the well-thought out provisions in the ESI Act, 1948, especially the definition of the term ‘wages’ under Sec. 2 (22) and retain that section as it is, by removing the present Sec. 2 (88) of the Code on Social Security, 2020.

Mr. Ratan Tata has, in the context of the living conditions of the poor in Dharavi of Mumbai, said that we should think over about the “acceptable standards of quality of life”. He has added, “… we’re dealing with populations that need to be a part of new India. We are creating a community which we are ashamed of. We should be driven by the desire of creating a world culture” (Times of India 21.04.2020).

ESIC assures proper and acceptable standards of quality of life. The quantum of these benefits should be the goal post and the extension of coverage under the ESI Act itself is possible to all sectors of the society as per Sec. 1 (5). The Code on Social Security, 2020 is an ill-thought out statute. Let the same benefits as are available now under the ESI Act be extended in future too to the working population in all sectors.

The package (of benefits provided by the ESIC) can rarely be matched by private employers on their own because of the heavy costs involved – not to mention the disinclination among employers, with honorable exceptions, to operate health care systems for their workforce”  – The Hindu (1.1.2005)

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W.P. 4809 of 2021 regarding the definition “Wages” under Sec. 2 (88) of the Code on Social Security, 2020!

Sec. 2 (88) of the Code on Social Security, 2020 tampers with the existing and time-tested definition of the term ‘wages’ under Sec. 2  (22) of the Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948, and, thereby, totally nullifies the purpose for which the ESI Act was brought into existence along with the Minimum Wages Act, in the year 1948, even before the Constitution of India was finalised and brought into existence.

The Minimum Wages Act (Act No. 11 of 1948) was made law on 15.03.1948 and the ESI Act (Act No. 34 of 1948) was made law, one month later, on 19.04.1948. It would thus become clear that the law-making process had been going on simultaneously for both laws. But the definition of the term ‘Wages’ that appeared in both these enactments of 1948 was kept different from each other, deliberately, and with foresight by the lawmakers who knew the subject in depth.

But the present Code on Social Security, 2020 published in the Gazette on 29.09.2020 has been prepared by the officials without understanding and appreciating the basic concepts behind the Minimum Wages Act and the ESI Act.

The Minimum Wages Act, 1948 was enacted to ensure minimum livelihood to the workers when they do their work in the factories covered under the Act whereas the ESI Act was intended to provide the security of livelihood to the workers when they are not able to work and earn owing to various contingencies like sickness, maternity, etc.,

The definition of the term ‘Wages’ as available in the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, prevented the employer from showing from many variable components of remuneration (like overtime allowances) paid by him to his workers as part of the said minimum wages. The definition of the term ‘Wages’ under the ESI Act, on the other hand, made it incumbent on the employer to take into account many variable components of remuneration paid by him to his employees and pay contribution on them too, so that the cash benefit that the workers would receive, in the event of sickness or other contingencies, would be attractive and substantial with reference to the total emoluments that they earned under whatever nomenclature.

An employee who draws total wages of Rs. 20,000 pm and is covered under the ESI Act, now, would get Rs. 18,000 pm, if he meets with an accident during the course of employment and gets temporarily disabled from doing his work for a month. Because the ESI Act takes into account all his remuneration as wages, except a few exceptions. But he would get only about Rs. 5000 or even less if and when the impugned Sec. 2 (88) of the Code on Social Security, 2020 comes into force. Because, Sec. 2 (88) decides the quantum of benefit payment only on the minimum wages.

Payments made to the employees as Overtime Allowance, House Rent Allowance, Incentive Bonus, Attendance Bonus, etc., are now excluded. Similar is the case with the women whose Maternity Benefit which is around their entire wages now, would be halved, because of the impugned Sec. 2 (88).The working population in the entire nation would never find the concept of Social Security meaningful, hereafter, because of the impugned Sec. 2 (88) wrongly inserted into the Code which claims to provide Social Security.

Social Security implies reasonable standard of living for the working population, by providing ‘income security’ as mentioned in Sec. 2 (78) of the Code on Social Security, 2020 itself. But the impugned Sec. 2 (88) of the said Code denies the attractive income security, that had, so far, been provided under Sec. 2 (22) of the ESI Act. The impugned Sec. 2 (88) of the Code on Social Security, affects the reasonable standard of living assured to the workers by the ESI Act, affecting the fundamental rights of the employees covered under the ESI Act..

There cannot be one and the same definition of the term ‘wages’ for both the Code on Wages, 2019 and the Code on Social Security, 2020. The officials did not follow the Due Process of Law in the law-making-process, and did not adhere to the canons of Pre-Legislative Consultative Policy dated 05.02.2014 and the established procedure laid down in Para 9.11.7 of the Manual of Parliamentary Procedure.

The Writ Petition filed before the Hon’ble High Court of Madras at Chennai challenges the said Sec. 2 (88) of the Code on Social Security, 2020 published in the Gazette of India on 29.09.2020 and prays for quashing it.

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IP’s quota of Medical College seats: Bureaucrats mastered the art of use and throw!

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour (PSCL) was examining the Bill No. 375 of 2019 during the period from 23.12.2019 to 29.07.2020.

The Committee was seriously apprehensive of involving ESI Corporation with the responsibility of medical education and wanted the Corporation be absolved of the duty of medical education related aspects.

But the officials used the concept of ‘Quota for the Wards of IPs’ to convince the MPs that running the Medical Colleges by the ESIC was beneficial to the IPs. They threw out the said concept, later, within six days after they got the Code passed with Sec. 39 (5) of it coming out of Parliament unscathed.

Now, the details:

When the PSCL asked questions about the need for medical colleges to be run by the ESIC, the officials of the Ministry of Labour & Employment, adduced inappropriate reasons and justified the Clause 39 (5).

They said that the said cause was parallel to the provisions of Sec. 59 B of the ESI Act. This was a section inserted unlawfully without following the Due Process of Law in the years 2009 and 2010. Moroever, the Corporation regretted that decision to start medical colleges and resolved to get out of it in 2015.

Yet the officials of the Ministry of Labour & Employment ventured to justify the medical colleges in the ESIC fold and convince the PSCL by uttering misleading statements, as recorded in Para 8.9 of the Report dated 30.07.2020 of the PSCL.

They informed the PSCL

  1. that the medical colleges under the ESIC fold was “fulfilling the objective of reducing” the shortage of doctors in the ESIC and
  2. that under the Wards of IPs Quota, “more than 300 ward of IPs have got admission in ESI Medical Colleges to pursue the MBBS courses”.

Both statements cannot constitute the proper and relevant reply to the apprehensions raised by the PSCL.

  1. The ESIC had let loose many home-grown graduates from the ESI Medical Colleges to go free, after completing their graduation. (For more, https://flourishingesic.info/2019/04/15/rationalisation-and-the-peculiar-claim-of-non-availability-of-doctors/ )
  2. It did not enforce even the Bond executed already in respect of many of them. (For more, https://flourishingesic.info/2015/12/18/the-fine-art-of-squeezing-out-the-esi-fund-account-no-1/ )
  3. The Quota for the Wards of IPs for medical seats has been annulled all of a sudden on 28.09.2020 on the ground that there had been court judgments of June and August 2019.

Now the question is,

  1. If the court judgments of June and August 2019 could be cited as the reason for annulling the quota in medical seats for the Wards of IPs, why was the PSCL not informed of this fact, when it was functioning for seven months from 23.12.2019 to 29.07.2020?
  2. Why was the order annulling the quota issued abruptly all of a sudden on 28.09.2020, six days after the Parliament passed the Code on Social Security, 2020 on 22.09.2020?

The impression that one can legitimately gather from these facts is that the bureaucrats were working for a lobby, willy nilly, to hand over the ESIC Medical Colleges along with the major hospitals to private persons without imposing any obligation on them even to accommodate the Wards of IPs in providing medical education, especially when the judgments concerned were appealable on valid grounds.

If there is no utility at all for the ESIC to run the medical colleges, the ESIC should close down the medical colleges and utilise the infra (created amidst a lot of corrupt activities of humongous scale) to generate permanent revenue to the ESI Corporation by leasing them out to business houses in public auction in a transparent manner.

Working overtime to entrust the ESIC medical institutions to ‘any person’ as mentioned in Cl. 41 (5) of the Draft Code on Social Security circulated on 17.09.2019 or to ‘any other body of persons’ as inserted later in the Bill No. 375 of 2019 point to the lobby that is working for siphoning off the property of the Corporation.

It was absolutely improper for the officials to inform the PSCL about the benefit derived by the wards of IPs in admission to medical colleges and convince them about the need for the ESIC to run the medical colleges, while they had annulled the quota on 28.09.2020 and had been aware of the consequence of the concerned judgments given by the Courts 13 or 15 months ago.

Are they accountable or not for such a conscious and deliberate misleading statements made by them before the Parliamentarians?

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The unlawful Code on Social Security, 2020: Certain Questions of Law!

The Code on Social Security, 2020 which was presented as the Bill No. 121 of 2020 in the Parliament on 19.09.2020 by the central bureaucrats and got passed by the two Houses on 22.09.2020 and 23.09.2020 was a record of sorts exemplifying the capability of the bureaucrats to bend the Parliament to their will. The tricks played by the British bureaucrats to use the politicians in power, as shown in the legendary BBC serial ‘Yes, Minister!’, pales, simply, into oblivion when one sees the audacious capability of the Indian bureaucrats who have mastered the art of deceiving the Parliamentarians and diverting their attention to get any law passed as the bureaucrats pleased.

The law-making-process adopted by the central bureaucrats in the making of the Code on Social Security, 2020 poses the following Questions of Law:

a. whether a law can be enacted with provision to reduce or annul the existing benefits payable to the working class under the ESI Act, which amounts to denial of the recognized fundamental human rights, especially when the benefits had been paid for decades from the funds contributed only by the employers and employees and not by the Central Government with the financial position of the ESI Corporation still remaining stable and commendable;

b. whether a law can be enacted without placing before the nation in general and the Parliamentarians in particular the fact whether the Respondents had estimated and assessed, on record, the impact of the proposed legislation on fundamental rights, lives and livelihoods of the affected people, the working population in this case, as mandated in Para 2 of the Decision of the COS communicated in the D.O. letter  No. 11 (35)/ 2013-L. 1 dated 05.02.2014;

c. whether a law can be enacted without following the ‘due process of law’ codified in the Pre-Legislative Consultative Policy evolved by the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs and publicized on 05.02.2014.

d. whether a law can be made without incorporating the suggestions given by the PSCL but making false statement to the Parliament that the fresh Bill has been proposed after incorporating the valuable suggestions of the PSCL;

e. whether a law can be made without following the due process of law, codified in Para 9.11.7 of the Manual of Parliamentary Procedure of the Government of India, and without making changes in the Bill scrutinised by the PSCL, through amendment motions;

f. whether the Secretaries of the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Law & Justice and the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs do have the authority to pilot the Bill No. 121 of 2020 as a ‘fresh Bill’ containing numerous modifications made by them on their own, as per their own whims and fancies, without the knowledge of the PSCL, without any suggestion by the PSCL and after the report had been given by the PSCL;

g. whether the abovementioned three officers can place a ‘fresh Bill’ , the Bill No. 121 of 2020, before the Parliament on 19.09.2020 with numerous new modifications and expect the Parliamentarians to go through those contents and find out for themselves what those modifications were, especially when the Parliament session had, already, been scheduled to be a very short one; and

h. whether the Secretary, Ministry of Labour and the Secretary, Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, can deviate from the established procedure of legislative drafting and place as Bill a bland document which does not specifically show and invite the attention of the Parliamentarians to the specific modifications proposed to be made, especially when the Bill is not for enacting a new law in the field but only meant for amending, amalgamating and consolidating the existing laws.

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Black day: The Black law on Social insecurity got passed in the LS!

A Black Day for the nation. The sinister Code on Social Security, 2020 got passed in the LS without proper discussion. A death knell for a civilised society.

The personal contribution of B. R. Ambedkar to India during his tenure as Labour Minister from 1942 to 1946 was the three basic laws for working population which materialised in 1948 as the Minimum Wages Act, The ESI Act and the Factories Act, even before Constitution came into existence.

These laws which make the society civilised have been buried deep by the BJP today. The Code on Social Security, 2020 is an eyewash to remove the real security provided so far.

The walk out by the opposition is puzzling. It cannot be appreciated at all.

Ambedkar: An Empathetic Economist | Forward Press

Times of India 23.09.2020

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The sinister Bill No. 375 of 2019: A comparative Table of Benefits!

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1948 to 1982: IPs drew more than the District Collectors, APFCs and the Income Tax Inspectors!

05.06.2020

To
The Director General,
Hqrs. Office,
ESI Corporation,
New Delhi 110002.

 

Sub: Undermining the basic concept of social security – through definition of the terms ‘employee’ and  ‘wages’ – Clause 2 (26) and Clause 2 (80) of the Code on Social Security, 2019 (Bill No. 375 of 2019 in the Lok Sabha) – representation – submitted.

 

Ref: 1. The Legal notice sent by me on 25.05.2020.

2. Email dated 29.05.2020 sent from the Wage Cell of the Ministry of Labour & Employment to the Director General, ESI Corporation, New Delhi.

 

Sir,

1 . I invite your kind attention to the references cited. I submit that the Ministry of Labour has, in the reference second cited, requested for the views of the Hqrs. Office of the ESI Corporation on the issue of wrong equation of the definition of the term ‘wages’ given in Sec. 2 (y) of the Code on Wages, 2019 with the definition of the term ‘wages’ given in the Clause 2 (80) of the Bill on the Code on Social Security, 2019 (Bill No. 375 of 2019) which has been tabled on the Lok Sabha.

Successful Economy presupposes Successful Social Security:

2 . Historically, right from the day when the Royal Labour Commission had undertaken tour in the year 1929 (after the enforcement of the Workman’s Compensation Act, 1923) to study the living conditions of Indian Labour, the employers had been resisting labour welfare measures, as they were under the popular impression (popular among themselves) that the such measures would be increasing their overheads and that they could not compete in the world market. A ‘successful economy’ cannot be built without ‘successful social security’. Both are intricately intertwined, as has been demonstrated by West Germany during the period between 1945 (when Germany was defeated in the WW II) and 1971 (when its DM attained full value). Franklin D. Roosevelt has gone on record having said, at the time of signing the Social Security Act, on 14th August, 1935, that Act was, “in short, a law that will take care of human needs and at the same time provide the United States an economic structure of vastly greater soundness.”

3. “Willing participation of labour” can be obtained only through social security as observed by the Sir William Beveridge in his monumental report presented in November, 1942. Indian social security system was modelled on the report of Beveridge by Prof. Adharkar. Such willing participation would not be there if the benefits provided at the time of contingencies like sickness, accident, maternity, etc., are not really meaningful and substantial to enable the workers to sustain themselves. That was the precise reason that the term ‘wages’ under Sec. 2 (22) had been so defined in the original Act that it was not only the fixed components but also the variable components  would be taken into account for determining the recovery of contribution from the employers and to pay benefits to the employees.

Inspections were meant to confirm contribution on real wages and detect concealed employment:

4. I submit that the present opportunity extended by the Ministry of Labour to examine the issue may kindly be made use of and the spirit of the definition under Sec. 2 (22) of the ESI Act,1948 maintained and those provisions retained. This is all the more essential in the context of downplaying the real importance of inspection of records of the employers to ensure proper compliance. “You don’t get what you expect. You get only what you inspect”. This is what the IAS officers are taught too at Mussorie. But the recent labour legislations are to the contrary and the result is that the workers remain uncared for.

5. Proper and in-depth inspections alone can ensure that all the coverable employees have been covered without being left out, and that contributions are paid on their behalf on all items of wages. Simply expecting that the employers would pay contribution on all items on which it is payable, just because there is a law to that effect would not work. All the officers from the level of Insurance Inspectors (later SSOs) to the level of Deputy Directors of the ESI Corporation, who had attentively handled the subject would provide numerous evidences of the manner in which the employers tried to play with the term ‘wages’ to pay contribution on reduced amount of wages which would, in turn, result in reduced quantum of benefits to the employees facing contingencies. (More in this regard in the Appendix).

6. It is, therefore, necessary to maintain the difference in the definition of the term ‘wages’ which was conceived of in the year 1948 itself, at the time of enactment of both the Acts, the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 and the ESI Act, 1948. There cannot, therefore, be one and the same definition of the term ‘wages’ for both enactments, the Code on Wages, 2019 and the Code on Social Security, 2019.

ESI Wage Ceiling was on par with the salary of Group ‘A’ Officers:

7. Already because of the weakness of the politcians-in-power to yield to the pressure from the lobby of the employers, the ‘wage ceiling’ under the ESI Act was not kept at the appropriate original stage, especially after 1975. There was a lot of resistance from the employers to revise the wage ceiling for coverage under the ESI Act, periodically, on par with the Consumer Price Index. The ESI Scheme had, in the process, lost its original direction and, thereby, its purpose too, to cover a large section of the middle-level income earners among the Indian population. Consequently, the ESI scheme could not extend its coverage to other classes of establishments, although a provision had, thoughtfully, been made for it under Sec. 1 (5) of the ESI Act.

8. It is, therefore, necessary to examine the issues under Sec. 2 (9) of the ESI Act also while examining the impact of Sec. 2 (22) as both are inter-twined. In the context, I would like to submit a few facts for your kind consideration:

a. When the ESI Act was enacted in the year 1948, the wage ceiling for the purpose of coverage was Rs. 400 pm excluding overtime allowances, as per the proviso to Sec. 2 (9) of the Act. At that time, the total salary of a District Collector was less than that. “A princely sum of Rs. 350 was what used to be the total salary of an IAS (ICS) officer at the start of his services in 1949”. It would show that the framers of the Act conceived of the extension of social-security-net not just to the ‘downtrodden’ but to the well-enlightened and well-paid employees too.

b. In the year 1966, this wage ceiling was increased to Rs. 500 pm (excluding overtime allowance), through a formal amendment to the Act, by the Parliament of India. At that time, the Basic Pay for a new entrant IAS officer in the Junior Scale was Rs. 400 pm in the scale of Rs. 400-400-500-40-700-EB-30-1000 (Ref: Page 109 – Chapter 11 – All India Services – Report of the Third Central Pay Commission – Vol I – Published by the Ministry of Finance, Government of India). A new entrant IAS officer was drawing a total salary of less than Rs. 500 pm in a ‘C’ class of the city.

c. Another relevant and interesting fact in this regard was that as per Sec. 17 (1) of the original ESI Act, permission of the Central Government was required to be obtained by the ESI Corporation, only for the creation the posts which carried the pay scale, the maximum of which was Rs. 500. This figure of Rs. 500 in the year 1948 which was the maximum of the required pay scale for such creation of posts would amply illustrate the importance of the wage ceiling of Rs. 400 pm, at that time, (excluding over time allowance) prescribed for coverage of employees in the factories and establishments. That was the then-intended reach of the ESI Act. (Later this provision has been shifted to subordinate legislation, through an amendment in the year 1975,  and now such a permission of the Central Government is sought only for the posts in NFSG as per Rule 20 of the ESI (General) Rules, 1950. )

d. In the year 1975, the wage ceiling for coverage was increased to Rs. 1000 pm, through another formal amendment, by the Parliament of India. At that time, the Third Pay Commission had given its report, according to which the Pay Scale of Income Tax Inspector was 425-700. The Customs Inspector was also drawing in the same scale of 425-700. Thus, when the ESI Act was amended in the year 1975 increasing the wage ceiling to Rs.1000 pm (excluding over time allowance), a new entrant Income Tax Inspector was drawing around Rs. 500 pm only as his total salary in a C class city. A new entrant Class I officer, like the Deputy Director in the ESI Corporation or the Assistant Provident Fund Commissioner in the EPF Organisation then, was drawing less than Rs. 1000 pm as his total salary, as his Scale of Pay was only Rs. 700 – 1300, after the enforcement of the Third Pay Commission Report.

e.  Given the above scenario, the impact of coverage of the employees in the factories and establishments drawing wages up to Rs. 1000 (excluding over time allowance) could be easily understood. On numerous occasions, during the personal hearings afforded to employers as per Sec. 45 (A) of the ESI Act, 1948, the Deputy Directors of the ESI Corporation had to encounter the employer’s staff members who were drawing more than the Deputy Directors of the ESI Corporation. It was only in the year 1982 that the salary of the Income Tax Inspectors in the ‘C’ class cities crossed the limit of Rs. 1000 pm, and started overtaking the wage ceiling prescribed under the ESI Act for the coverage of the Insured Persons, which continued to remain at Rs. 1000 (excluding over time allowance).

f.  In the year 1984 the wage ceiling was increased to Rs. 1600 pm under Sec. 2 (9), excluding over time allowances. But, soon, as per the Fourth Pay Commission recommendations, from 01.01.1986 onwards, the Pay Scale of the Income Tax Inspectors overtook, again, the wage ceiling prescribed under the ESI Act. The Pay Scale of the Income Tax Inspectors was increased to Rs. 1640-2900 and the salary of the Deputy Directors in the ESI Corporation and the Assistant Provident Fund Commissioners in the EPFO were fixed in the Pay Scale of 2200-4000.

g.  Thereafter, the wage ceiling for coverage of insured persons under the ESI Act was not increased at any time on the pattern of the increase made earlier through amendments made to the ESI Act in the year 1966 or 1975, to keep within coverage the insured persons who were drawing wages on par with the salary of the central governments at the middle management level in the Central Civil Service, let alone the position conceived of in 1948 to keep within coverage all those drawing wages even above the salary of the District Collectors.

h .The initial salary of a District Collector now in a ‘C’ class city with a Grade Pay of Rs. 8700, the salary of a new entrant Income Tax Inspector with a Grade Pay of Rs. 4600 and the salary of the APFC with a Grade Pay of Rs. 5400, at present, are far above the wage ceiling of Rs. 21000 presently fixed for coverage of employees under the ESI Act. It is only the salary of the MTS, whose cadre is the lowest point of entry into Central Civil Service ranges from 18000 to 20000 now and is below the wage ceiling of Rs. 21000 pm (excluding over time allowance) prescribed under the ESI Act for coverage of insured persons working in factories and establishments.

I submit that the aforesaid facts would convince everyone how the enlightened section of the employees of the factories and establishments were silently made to keep themselves away, in phases, from the ESIC and from having active participation in monitoring the functioning of the ESI Scheme.

9. The employees’ representatives in the supreme body of the organisation could not get better feedback from such enlightened well-paid employees of the factories and establishments. They, in turn, could not represent the cases of the employees before the the ESIC administration, especially about the medical benefits provided by various state governments, especially the state governments of Bihar, MP, Rajasthan, and UP.

10. A social security scheme, which was originally intended to cover not only the so-called ‘blue-collared workers’ but also the ‘white-collared employees’ was, thus, made to leave out the white-collared employees in bulk during the course of just three decades from 1952. It is significant to point out at this juncture that in the year 1947 when the Bill was prepared, it was called only as “Workman’s State Insurance Bill” on the lines of the Workman’s Compensation Act, 1923. But its name was changed later as “Employees’ State Insurance Bill” considering the extent of its intended reach.

Social Security a ‘service’ not a ‘business’:

11. It is submitted that if the present definition of the term ‘wages’ as per Clause 2 (80) and the definition of the term ‘employee’ as per Clause 2 (26) of the present Bill on the Code on Social Security is made law, the coverage of employees for the purpose of providing social security benefit would not only be infinitesimal but also insignificant. Providing Social Security to the people of the nation, which is a ‘Service’ to be provided by the sovereign government, will get converted by the aforesaid two definitions into ‘business’ by and for the private ultra-rich.

No proper study for Social Impact Assessment:

12. All these modifications have, apparently, been done without conducting any study on the Social Impact on the Indian society. It is submitted that the report of the Second National Commission of Labour cannot be cited as a ruse for these micro level changes which would are intended to have far-reaching deleterious effect on the Indian society as a whole. It is a fact that the Second National Labour Commission did not say anything about drafting a labour law, a Social Security Code, to facilitate handing over the ESIC Medical Colleges along with major hospitals to ‘any person’ or any ‘organisation of persons’, by inserting such questionable phrases as has been recorded in Clause 41(5) of the draft Code dated 17.09.2019  and Clause 39(5) of the Bill 375 of 2019 respectively.

West Bengal ESI Hospitals well-run and incentive grant provided:

13. It is submitted that providing social security to the working population is a sovereign function of the State just like running the nation through Revenue Departments or maintaining law and order through Police Department and administering  justice through Courts of Law. Just because there is deterioration in services in certain pockets because of the corrupt politician-bureaucrat nexus, as is said to be there in Revenue Department and Police Department or the political interference said to be there in the Judiciary, there is no proposal coming up from any quarters to dispense with these departments or institutions but to insulate them from corruption and political interference. The  concept of the ESI Scheme cannot also be derided and attempted to be dispensed with, for the very same reason. Experience has demonstrated, on many occasions, that the ESIC could be run finer and could be run corruption-free, when there is no political interference in the administration of the organization. The Scandinavian countries top the Human Development Index consistently for long, only because the organizations which provide social security benefits there are run corruption-free.

14.  The Chief Minister of West Bengal had said, “The excellent performance of the ESI Hospitals in West Bengal run by our labour department has been recognized by the Centre. An incentive grant of Rs 22.33 crore has been provided, which is first time ever to be received by any ESI Hospital in the country,” (Times of India 09.11.2014).

Judiciary wanted to impose costs on the draftsmen and the legislators:

15.  Lord Justice Scrutton observed the following in Roe vs. Russel (1928) :“I regret that I cannot order the costs to be paid by the draftsmen of the Rent Restriction Acts, and the members of the Legislature who passed them, and are responsible for the obscurity of the Acts.” (Page 94- The Closing Chapter – Lord Dennings). The Act passed by the British Parliament was so ambiguous that Lord Scrutton regretted his inability to impose penalty (cost) on the persons who brought into existence such a loosely drafted law.

16.  Another Judge Sir Ernest Gowers who said the following in the Plain Words case in the year 1948 as the duty of the draftsmen (Page 95 ibid.): “…. to try to imagine every possible combination of circumstances to which his words might apply and every conceivable misinterpretation that might be put on them, and to take precaution accordingly. ….All the time he must keep his eyes on the rules of legal interpretation and the case law on the meaning of particular words [and on the previous statutes on the same subject-matter] and choose his phraseology to fit them.”. We the Indians, who are said to have adopted the British system of governance more, have to demonstrate that we are capable of framing laws in a proper manner. But the present Bill No. 375 of 2019 does not fit into the parameters of proper law.

Nexus between Clauses 2 (26), 2 (80) and Clause 39(5):

17. I submit that the phraseology of Clauses 2 (26) and 2 (80) read with the phraseology of Claus 39 (5) give a discerning reader reason to believe that there is close nexus between the purpose for which these clauses have been inserted the way they are. I submit that I have used the phrase ‘reason to believe’ in the foregoing sentence with all its legal import as elucidated by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in Sony India Ltd Vs. Commissioner of Income Tax on 12.05.2005. The contents of Clause 39 (5) on the one hand and the contents of Clauses 2 (26) and 2 (80) on the other, lead one to the belief that there is a rational connection between the two. The contents of Clause 39 (5) do have a relevant bearing on Clause 2 (26) which leads to the formation of the aforesaid belief.

18. I, therefore, pray that action may kindly be taken to retain in the Bill on the Code on Social Security, 2019 (Bill No. 375 of 2019) the definition of the term ‘wages’ as given in Sec. 2 (22) of the ESI Act, 1948. In the alternative, the contents of Cl. 2 (80) of the said Bill No. 375 of 2019 may be caused to be re-examined and the following words and phrases deleted from the definition of the term ‘wages’ as given therein:

a. The phrase ‘any conveyance allowance or” appearing in the Exclusion Clause (d) of the definition has to be deleted;

b. The phrase ‘house rent allowance” appearing in the Exclusion Clause (f) of the definition has to be deleted;

c. The phrase ‘any overtime allowance” appearing in the Exclusion Clause (h) of the definition has to be deleted;

d. The phrase ‘any commission payable to the employee” appearing in the Exclusion Clause (i) of the definition has to be deleted;

e. The first proviso should be totally deleted as it does not have relevance in a social security enactment. In other words, this proviso starting with the phrase “provided that for calculating” and ending with the phrase “added in wages under this clause” requires to be deleted in toto.

Thanking you,

Yours faithfully,

Encl: Appendix.

 

 

Copy submitted to

The Secretary, Ministry of Labour & Employment, GOI, New Delhi.

The Secretary, Ministry of Law & Justice, GOI, New Delhi.

 

 

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Maternity Benefits under SS Code : Piloting it the wrong way ! – Part 1

 

Maternity Benefit slide_page-0001 (2)

The year was 1983. The ESI Corporation wanted to make some path-breaking changes and to bringing in suitable amendments. The Contribution Card system with stamps had already been replaced with the Contribution Card system with cash. The issue now was that the classification of employees into three sets, viz., A, B and C, was to be given a go by. Common Contribution Period and Benefit Period was being contemplated. The Hqrs. Office of the ESI Corporation asked the Regional Directors to offer their opinion. The Regional Directors asked, in turn, the field officers the Managers of the Local Offices and the Insurance Inspectors to explain their stand. The outcome was the evolvement of law which ensured the introduction of new system providing for all the practical difficulties in its implementation.  The opinions offered ensured that the procedure evolved was not only not cumbersome but also one that advanced the purpose of the Act.

Hear the subordinates

Such a practice of obtaining opinions from subordinates in the field was followed, again in the year 1988, before certain vital amendments were made in the ESI Act, in the year 1989. The management principle recommended by Mr. Gordon M.Bethune, former Chief Executive of the Continental Airlines was to ‘hear the subordinates’. For, he knew that they knew more about the work and the weak-spots.

Gordon Continental Airlines

Mr. Bethune said, “I was a mechanic in the Navy. And mechanics in the Navy are like mechanics in airlines. You may have more stripes than I do, but you don’t know how to fix the airplane. You want me to fix it? You know how much faster I could fix the airplane when I wanted to, than when I didn’t want to? So I’ve always felt that if you treat me with respect, I’ll do more for you.”…”And we never lied. You don’t lie to your own doctor. You don’t lie to your own attorney, and you don’t lie to your employees.” (Corner Office -Adam Bryant – 02.01.2010 – New York Times).

Legislative Policy,  kept a mystery

But, here is a bureaucracy, now, at the centre, especially in the Ministry of Labour & Employment and in the Ministry of Law & Justice, which does not hear even the Corporation, the supreme body of the ESI Corporation, let alone its Director General or his subordinates. Because many of the provisions in the Bill No. 375 of 2019 are intended to destroy the well-conceived social security network that provides social insurance and enable the private players to loot the masses in the name of commercial insurance. The bureaucracy is, therefore, afraid of the proper law-making process.

What is more? Even the Director General of the ESI Corporation and the Central PF Commissioner of the EPFO were not made aware beforehand and at every crucial stage, what was being drafted by the Drafting Team of the Labour Code, although the Ministry of Labour enacted a drama of roping in some junior officers from these organisations to be part of the team. More of this can be read in the following links:

https://flourishingesic.info/2017/05/25/slave-labour-code-unlimited-rights-to-the-drafting-team/
https://flourishingesic.info/2017/05/26/the-drafting-committee-of-the-constitution-vs-the-drafting-team-of-the-labour-code/
https://flourishingesic.info/2017/05/29/drafting-team-was-trying-to-finish-off-the-epfo-was-the-cpfo-aware/

These two ministries have been made captives by their political masters, and have been made to prepare a law that is intended to serve only those private interests and not public interest. In the absence of publication of the Legislative Policy, the Bill No. 375 of 2019 deserve only be categorised as a Private Bill dressed up as a Bill mooted by the government.

Innumerable dubious words, phrases and clauses inserted on the sly at various places for wrong reasons in the said Bill, indicate clearly that the intention of these Ministries is not to give priority to run the ESIC corruption-free  but to destabilise it and provide a ground for the private players to cheat and loot the public. These bureaucrats forget or suppress that the ESI Act does not prevent private players from operating even now on the same field, provided they are ready to provide benefits which are superior or substantially similar to the ones provided by the ESI Corporation. That they are not interested in giving priority to eradicate corruption would become evident from the manner in which the CAG himself has not filed counter-affidavit in the W.P. 35184 of 2016 pending before the Hon’ble High Court of Madras for the past four years.

Pulling wool over the eyes of law-makers

The Statement of Objects and Reasons and the Notes on Clauses, justifying the Bill No. 375 of 2019 are full of half-information, misinformation, disinformation and no-information on various core issues. They are intended to deceive the parliamentarians and get them vote for this dubious Bill to make it a law. The method of manipulation adopted by them in meddling with the Maternity Benefit provisions, through this ill-conceived Bill would give real shock to every well-meaning citizen. The unholy nexus between the ‘educated’ officers in these Ministries and the ‘private interests’, causes the former to assist the latter by subverting the due process of law, and enacting laws which are clearly against the interests of the working women whose living conditions do not matter for these high-paid officials.

Their actions bring into existence a law that would never attain its proclaimed goal but would ensure that the society is made chaotic and insecure. There is no explanation anywhere as to why and by whom and at whose instance various unlawful tinkerings have been made in the ESI Scheme, without any written direction to anyone by anyone. What has happened is a conspiracy by the top officials against the large masses of the nation whose voice cannot be heard and whose living conditions do not matter for these officials. All these officials are required to be made accountable for such commissions and omissions. They are the persons responsible for piloting the highflying aircraft to disastrous crash.

Clause 32 (1) (b) and Clause 32 (3) of the Chapter IV read with the entire Chapter VI of the Bill on the Code on Social Security, 2019 (Bill No. 375 of 2019) in the matter of Maternity Benefit provide a classic example of collusion of various vested interests to deny the large multitude of workingwomen of the nation the Maternity Benefit that was available to them under the existing provisions of the ESI Act for decades and decades.

Shock ad infinitum

The manner in which questionable words, phrases and clauses have been inserted at various places, in the Bill No. 375 of 2019, with the intention of cheating the workforce, causes a lot of depression and annoyance even for a reader. One wonders how the educated bureaucrats could stoop so low to deceive the poor people of the nation and to please the rich anti-labour elements and prepared such a draft Code to make patently unlawful things lawful. It is very sad and it causes depression and annoyance in the reader. One has to take a lot of efforts to motivate oneself to come out of such depression, before and for writing about the social impact of such cunning insertions in the Code.

The text of the Bill No. 375 of 2019 shows that the persons behind the Bill wanted to drastically reduce the quantum of Maternity Benefit available to the working women and make it just a farce. And the bureaucracy obliged willingly (Details in Part 2).

ESI Act and MB Act do not go together

When the ESI Act 1948 is in force in a factory or establishment, there is be no need or scope for the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 to be applied to the Insured Women of that unit. For example, when the wage ceiling for coverage under the Maternity Benefit Act is Rs. 15000 pm, and the wage ceiling for coverage under the ESI Act is Rs. 21000 pm, there will be no need for the Insured Women covered under the ESI Act to seek benefit under the Maternity Benefit Act. The Maternity Benefit Act, therefore, does not operate and is not applicable to the said factory or establishment, as had been made clear in the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Maternity Benefit Act in the year 1961 itself.

Yet there was the need for the Maternity Benefit Act to be in existence, as all the factories and establishments everywhere in the nation were not covered or coverable under the ESI Act.  The ESI Act could not be implemented and is not implementable everywhere, in practice, unless there was a cluster of factories or establishments justifying the setting up of a dispensary with doctors, nurses and para medical staff ( or at least a mobile dispensary ) before implementing the provisions of the ESI Act in that area. Consequently, the factories and establishments in outlying areas were made to enforce the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, for the women working there. In other words, whenever the ESI Corporation wants to extend its operation to a new area where there are adequate number of factories and establishments and the families of insured persons, it is required to notify through the gazette of its intention to implement the scheme in that area. Such an area is called as “Implemented Area”. The ESI Act can thus be extended only in phases.

That was the reason the phrases, “different dates” and “different parts” have been inserted in Sec. 1 (3) of the ESI Act, in the year 1951 itself very thoughtfully.  But the present Bill on the Code on Social Security does not show that it took into account the concept of “Implemented Area” at all, when its Clause 1 (3) it refers to the applicability of the Code which is pending consideration of the Lok Sabha now.

As a result, one has to presume that the persons who drafted the Bill No. 375 of 2019 intended to enforce the provisions of the present ESI Act everywhere throughout India at one go, through the aforesaid Clause 1 (3) and Chapter IV of the said Bill. Well, but one does not understand the need, then, for the enforcement of the provisions of MB Act, 1961 anywhere in India, through Chapter VI of the same Bill.

ESI Act and MB Act can go together

Still, it is possible to enforce the enforce the provisions of the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 (proposed Chapter VI of the Bill No. 375 of 2019) in the same factory in which the ESI Act, 1948 (proposed Chapter IV of the same Bill) is in force, if the wage ceiling for coverage of working women under the Maternity Benefit Act (proposed Chapter VI) is more than the wage ceiling prescribed under the ESI Act (proposed Chapter IV). But such decisions had never been taken by the government during the last 59 years, after the Maternity Benefit Act came into force. The liability to pay the Maternity Benefit under the ESI Act, 1948, is taken over by the ESI Corporation while the liability to pay the same benefit under the MB Act, 1961, is on the shoulders of the employers, with varies consequences.   The wage ceiling for coverage under the MB Act, 1961 had, therefore, been kept always below the ceiling provided under the ESI Act, 1948.

In other words, the ESI Act and the MB Act cannot apply to the same factory or establishment as long as the wage ceiling for coverage under the MB Act remains lower than the ceiling provided under the ESI Act.

In other words, the ESI Act and the MB Act cannot apply to the same set of working women at one and the same time. Consequently, Chapter IV of the Bill No. 375 of 2019 and Chapter VI thereof cannot apply to the same set of working women at one and the same time. The provisions of Chapter IV would alone prevail.

Definitions and absence of definitions

While these are vital technical incongruities in the Bill No. 375 of 2019, with reference to the definition and absence of definition for crucial words, which do have far-reaching consequences, the definition of the term ‘wages’ given in the said Bill and is made applicable for Chapter IV and VI make the entire Code a chimera. The Code simply pretends to provide Maternity Benefit to working women while it actually reduces drastically the benefit now available to them both under the ESI Act, 1948 and the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961. (This happens not only to the Maternity Benefit but also to all other benefits provided under the ESI Act, at present).

\The significance of such lapses in the Bill will be placed before the readers in the upcoming pieces, pertaining to Maternity Benefit, separately one by one, with reference to various court verdicts under the MB Act, 1961. They are stories of human tragedies showing the conflict of interest in the functional relationship between the benefit-needing employees and the profit-seeking employers (who prefer donating hefty amount to the political parties and bribing the politicians and officials while, at the same time, reducing the wages and total strength of their staff). Numerous instances of such cruelties are on record throughout the world indicating the uncivilised nature of the Strong against the Weak and Meek.

It would be appropriate in the context to recall an incident that had happened more than a century ago when an employer did not want to pay Disablement Benefit to his employee who was suffering from life-threatening employment injury sustained by him during the course of and out of his employment in the factory of the employer concerned. The employer chose rather to pay a hefty fee to a ‘clever’ lawyer, who used all the dishonest means to enact a drama in the court and had, sadly but successfully, helped the employer deny the legitimate dues payable to the poor workman. The present Bill No. 375 of 2019 is, directly, leading the Indian society in that undesirable direction.

Employee Vs. Employer

It was the 19th century England when Commoners chose to sit and suffer injustice in silence than to stand up and fight against in the costly courts. Not every employer in England was the noble George Cadbury. The money power of merciless employers and the cleverness of dishonest lawyers worked against the workmen.   As a result, cases were decided not on facts.

There was an employee of a railroad company who had sustained injury during the course of employment. He was denied compensation by the employer-company. He approached the court seeking remedy. His case was that the accident had resulted in his becoming a victim of neurasthenia or nervous prostration. The evidence produced by him showed that because of that problem, his mental and physical health had deteriorated rapidly. It was also proved during the cross-examination of an expert doctor that the workman was suffering from neurasthenia. The expert witness informed the Court that the workman suffered no pain when pricked with a pin on top of the head and that was a sure sign of his suffering from neurasthenia.

The lawyer for the defendant-company of the employer began his argument. He was “an ex-judge, somewhat advanced in years and exceedingly resourceful”. Incidentally, “he was as bereft of hair as the oft-cited billiard ball. When it came time to argue the case to the jury, he proceeded to expound the facts with clearness and vigour for a considerable length of time and finally approached the subject of neurasthenia.”

He paid his respects to the learned doctor who was called in as an expert witness. He then expressed his surprise and astonishment at the conclusion arrived at during the examination that “one who did not experience pain by the prick of a pin on the top of the head was a neurasthenic and rapidly progressing to complete mental decline.”  He, then, informed the jury that he was under the impression that he was a man of reasonable physical vigour and had always supposed that he was still possessed of his normal mental faculties. But he became afraid that he discovered that he himself was a hopeless neurasthenic as per the evidence given by the expert doctor. If he was a patient suffering from neurasthenia, he had no business trying lawsuits, but “should be preparing rapidly to meet his Maker”, he added.

“Thereupon he turned back the lapel of his coat and extracted good-sized needles, which he promptly stuck in the top of his head. He kept this up until he had some ten or twelve needles sticking in the top of his bald head and looked like an animated pin cushion”. He finished his argument.” Everyone was stunned.  The verdict returned was “in favour of the defendant”, i.e., the employer.

But what had happened was that the lawyer had got a portion of his scalp injected with cocaine with the help of a physician to avoid feeling pain when sticking the pins on his head. He had thus cheated the Judge, the Jury and the Law with the only aim of denying the legitimate compensation payable to the workman who was actually suffering from neurasthenia as a result of the employment injury sustained by him.

In later years, the lawyer confided to the same judge, Mr. Justice Faville, “that the last needle got outside the area of the cocaine which his physician had hypodermically injected into his scalp just before he began his argument and had almost unmasked the hoax”. He had to pretend hard that there was no pain although the last needle gave him very sharp pain.  (Ref: Oxford Book of Legal Anecdotes – Michael Gilbert – Oxford University Press –Pages 10-11). The hapless worker simply suffered and there was no one to help him.

The Questions and the Answers

Who will save such workers from the tentacles of such employers and advocates, if not the State? What else should be the responsibility of the State? Why should the State abdicate its Constitutional responsibility and privatise the social security in India? Why should the people of a nation allow its rulers to make the State abdicate its responsibility to provide Social Security?

In the Indian context, which employee of the nation asked for lesser Maternity Benefit than what is being provided under the ESI Act? Should not the bureaucrats be made to give reply to this question in the appropriate forum?

Will these ‘educated’ bureaucrats who give all impressions that they prepared the draft Code without any legislative policy given by anyone, and have exercised unlimited discretion to prepare the Code as they pleased, allow the already evolved democracy in India to survive and allow the ESI Corporation to flourish?

Atifete 2

 

  • Let the Indian government hold a survey among the Insured Persons and the beneficiaries of the ESI Corporation first in a honest and transparent manner. A cursory survey done in Mumbai in the latter 1990s showed that 85% of the insured persons wanted the ESIC while 85% of the employers did not want. That sums up the entire picture.
  • Let them make the CAG, who is shying away from the W.P. 35184 of 2016 for the past four years, to file counter-affidavit at least now, that the bureaucratic cartel that colluded together in mismanaging the funds involving thousands of crores would come to light.
  • Let them allow the ESIC to be run corruption-free! The ESIC will, then, reach greater heights!!

(Contd.)

Images; Courtesy: Web.

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The humane Sec. 2 (22) Vs. The wicked Cl. 2 (80).

It is Corona times. The date is 25.05.2020. Lord Yama Dharma Raja is hovering over the earth along with his assistant, Chitragupta, watching the events taking place in various nations under lock-down. For the past three months there were unusual increase in the number of entrants to his Court. While on the move, he gets attracted by the conversation of two men in a cocktail party at a hotel in New Delhi. He stopped moving further and has started observing their conversation. Chitragupta, who is standing nearby, is also keen to hear the duo, who were drunk and did not care to keep anything secret. Their conversation reveals that they are power-brokers in the capital of India who get things done from the politicians in power as desired by the business magnates who engage them. This night they are in an ebullient mood, feeling buoyant as if they are swimming in a pool of alcohol. Their conversation reveals that they are Mr. Wall and Mr. Suffer.

Mr. Suffer: Have some more drinks please! (Pours more into the glass of his companion).

Mr. Wall: Yes, Mr. Suffer! I agree, we should go on drinking and drinking. You can float in a pool of alcohol only as long as you swim. You will sink, if you stop swimming. Pour me more, I am so happy that we could influence the people in power to prepare the Code on Social Security the way our masters wanted.

Mr. Suffer: What a nice thing we have done! We have virtually wrecked the entire social security structure in India but project the image that we are expanding the structure. I am not able to control laughing. Nobody knows that a social security enactment of the nation could be so easily wrecked by tampering with the definition of the terms ‘employee’ and ‘wages’. Hah hah haa! We have poured hot water just at the root of the plant. And, it won’t be noticed by anyone. With this one single shot through Cl. 2 (26) and Cl. 2 (80) of the Bill No. 375 of 2019, the entire edifice of the social security structure evolved through the ESIC collapses in a flash. I caused it to be made that way. And the bureaucrats did what I wanted. Funny, the way the legislations are drafted by the bureaucrats who do not care for the poor.

Mr. Wall: Hey, I do not know anything about the concept of ‘wages’ you talk of. But I got what I wanted for PPP, divestment of medical colleges, etc., The manner in which we could cause various words and phrases inserted at various places in the Code is amazing, even for me. The interesting part of it is that nobody can understand the depth of those innocuous-looking phrases and foresee the impact of our mischief. We are very clever. So, we could cheat the others easily. But one thing. We could do all that only because the legislation is about the poor working class about whom nobody cares. We cannot do such thing in a legislation that would affect the rich.

Mr. Suffer: Yes, of course! Poor should be cared for by the government only. When the government is not inclined to be so, who will care for them. None. Moreover, the rich who care only for themselves are able to dictate terms to the government. We do not see rich benefactors like Robert Owen or George Cadbury in the Indian scene. They evolved the social security structure in the international arena. But the ultra rich in India want to wreck the already established structure. What is more? They are able to get the law they want by paying the political parties through Electoral Bonds. The party in power gets about 92% of such corporate donations. Naturally the nation goes the way the rich want it.

Mr. Wall: You are right! The Indian society becomes less civilised with every such labour law passed by the government recently to exploit the labour in the manner in which the rich wanted to exploit them. Anyway, our concern is that we should make money and it is the rich who pay us. Why should we then bother about the poor?

Mr. Suffer: Why should we? The politicians in power want to get the votes of the poor but they do not bother about the poor. Why we should feel concerned about them, then?

Mr. Wall: Yes, Mr. Suffer! You are right! We have convinced the politicians in power that they should choose between ‘Production in Industry’ and ‘Protection for the labour class’. Both cannot go together, we told them. They believed our theory.

Mr. Suffer: Funny, these politicians in power do not know that only strong labour welfare measures can increase production. They do not want to see what is happening in the civilised countries like Norway, Sweden, Finland, Japan, etc., They are more interested in getting money for their political parties from the Corporates. So all of them are at the beck and call of the Corporates and are ready to work as their agents instead of protecting the large mass which constitute the working class.

Mr. Wall: Be happy about it! It suits us! Otherwise we will also have to do some real work that would be really beneficial to the society. We cannot live this kind of happy parasitical life otherwise. Our work helps the rich exploit the masses without limit. I am surprised how the bureaucrats have been helping us in playing so many tricks in preparing the Code on Social Security to provide no meaningful security to the working population.

Mr. Suffer: Yes, the bureaucrats did not even explain to the politicians in power the circumstances under which various terminlogies had been defined in the ESI Act the way they have been and their importance in the Indian context. We know that as Sir William Beveridge said, industry in a nation will flourish, only when there is “Willing participation of labour”. But in India, the politicians in power do not want to listen to reason. They want to live off the rich; the rich want to live off the poor. The only goal amont the rich is to become ultra rich, and feature themselves in the Forbes magazine.

Mr.Wall: That they can achieve only when the politicians in power help them to exploit the poor through ‘Forced labour”. (He pours some more liquor for himself and drinks).

Mr. Suffer: I am not able to come out of the dizzy feeling I had when all our efforts bore fruit in the form of the Bill on the Code on Social Security, 2019 (Bill. No.375 of 2019) which contained the definition of the term ‘employee’ in Clause under Clause 2 (26) and the term ‘Wages’ under Clause 2 (80) as we wanted it. Nobody is going to notice it. Hah hah haa. With these two definitions, the entire ESI structure gets demolished so silently. The private insurers will then have a field day. I am so happy. I feel as if I am in heaven.

Mr. Wall: I feel that I am in heaven too.

(Lord Yama Dharma Raja looks at Chitragupta with a smile. Chitragupta smiles in response. He knows the meaning of the smile of the Lord and understands what is in store for this duo when they appear in the Court of the Lord, later.)

Mr. Suffer: Yes, of course. We have done a brilliant work. It requires a lot of talent to do what we have done. Even if you keep the present ESI Act in tact and continue to provide 70% to 90% of wages as compensation, the questionable phrases that we have caused to be included in the definition of the term ‘Wages’ under Cl. 2 (80) of the Bill No. 375 of 2019 would ensure that there is no meaningful social security net for the working population in India. What a marvellous work we have done! I admire at our own capability of deceit. And the bureaucrats, simply, fell for us. Oh, how easy to cheat the masses in India, with the help of the bureaucrats who do not care about their social responsibility under the Constitution!

Mr. Wall: Yes, yes! First of all, nobody cares for the poor; secondly, nobody knows where we have done what to undermine the social security system. Wah ! It is so easy to scuttle labour welfare measures in India.

Mr. Suffer: I admire myself ad infinitum. What a wonderful way in which I have caused insertion of the term “any overtime wages” in Clause 2 (80) and removed the same from Clause 2 (26) of the Bill concerned! Nobody knows the consequences of it. Because the overtime wages had been specified in Sec. 2 (9) of the ESI Act to be excluded for the purpose of coverage, but included for calculation of contribution payable on the wages defined under Sec. 2 (22) thereof. Its consequence has been phenomenally favourbale for the welfare of the labour, for the past 68 years. These terms have had a chequered history to protect the working population. But, we have reversed the relevant phraseologies in the present Bill on the Code on Social Security, in such a clever manner that it would be difficult for the people to understand the extent of the crime committed in drafting the Bill.

Mr. Wall: What would be the impact of such inclusions and exclusions?

Mr. Suffer: You see, the defintion of the term ‘wages’ as given in Sec. 2 (y) of the already promulgated Code on Wages, 2019 has been copied and pasted in Clause 2 (80) of the Bill on the Code on Social Security. The Code on Wages, 2019 replaced the Minimum Wages Act, 1948. The ESI Act had also been brought into existence only in 1948. But the term ‘wages’ had been defined differently in Sec. 2 (22) of the ESI Act. But now the bureaucrats did not care to examine why there was discrepancy between these two enactments while defining wages. They did not care either to analyse or even to record their observations in the Statement of Objects and Reasons accompanying the Bill on the Code on Social Security.

Mr. Wall: Why did the two Acts had two different definitions for the term ‘wages’?

Mr. Suffer: The very purposes of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 and the Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948 were totally different. The former was intended to ensure that the working population got, at least, a certain minimum amount as wages and to prevent the employer from including many variable components of remuneration paid by him to the workers and showing them also as part of the said minimum wages. The latter was to ensure that the employer brought within the purview of social security provided by the State more employees by excluding many variable components so that the cash benefit that he would receive in the event of sickness or other contingencies would be attractive and substantial with reference to the total emoluments that he receives from his employer in whatever form, so that he would be able to maintain a reasonable standard of living during the periods of such unforeseen contingencies. For example, an employee who earns a sum of Rs. 20000 pm as wages now, would get about Rs. 14000 pm as Sickness Benefit, Rs. 16000 as Extended Sickness Benefit and Rs. 18000 as Total Disablement Benefit. This is the position as on date.

Mr. Wall: I understand now. It seems that the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 was for excluding many variable components of remuneration paid by the employer to identify the ‘wages’ while the ESI Act, 1948 was for adding many variable components of remuneration to the ‘wages’ paid otherwise. The definition in Sec. 2 (h) of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 ensured not only a specific minimum as wages payable to the working population but also prevented the employer, through the ‘Exclusion Clause’ in the said Sec. 2 (h), from citing those extra allowances or payments as part of the said minimum wages.

Mr. Suffer: Yes. The goal of the Minimum Wages Act was to put at least a minimum money in the pocket of the worker while the goal of the ESI Act was to provide maximum possible cash benefit by the Government to enable the worker to meet the contingencies. There cannot, therefore, be one and the same definition of the term ‘wages’ for both enactments.

Mr. Wall: True. Both these enactments came into force immediately on the wake of independence and they came along with the another important labour welfare legislation, the Factories Act, 1948. The desire of the leaders of modern India, then, was not to allow exploitation of labour even after the independence of the nation. That was the precise reason for enacting all these legislations, on priority basis on attaining independence. It had been made clear in the Statements of Object and Reasons of all these three enactments, in the year 1948, that they were intended for the welfare of the working population.

Mr. Suffer: The definition of the term ‘wages’ in Sec. 2 (22) of the Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948 read with the definition of the term ‘employee’ in Sec. 2 (9) of the said Act, (which specifically excluded over time allowance to decide the coverage of the insured person) ensured that the employee was not denied coverage because of variable components of remuneration but was given substantial amount as cash benefit (by taking into account many variable components of remuneration also as wages) and was thus enabled to maintain a reasonable standard of life even when he was affected by certain contingencies like Sickness, Disablement due to Employment Injury, etc.,

Mr. Wall: Yes, I got it. If the employee who draws total wages of Rs. 20000 is shown by the employer to have received only Rs. 7000 as wages and the remaining Rs. 13000 as extra allowances which have not been classified as Wages, as per Cl. 2 (80) of the Bill on the Code on Social Security, he would get only Rs. 4900 pm as Sickness Benefit, Rs. 5600 as Extended Sickness Benefit and Rs. 6300 as Total Disablement Benefit. As one who maintained his standard of life at Rs. 20000 pm, it would become very hard to him to maintain a reasonable standard at Rs. 4900 pm in the event of even ordinary sickness. It is essential in the context to know that the tendency of the employers to cheat and evade both his employees and the ESI Corporation has been real as borne out by the judgments of the courts of law in thousands of cases. A law-maker cannot just presume to the contrary and put the lives of the working masses at the mercy of the employers, going back once again to the pre-1948 era.

Mr. Suffer: Very funny, indeed. The bureaucrats do have neither the understanding of the concept of social security nor any understating of the consequences. That was why the draftsman had simply inserted in Cl. 2 (80) of the Bill on the Code on Social Security the entire definition of the term Wages as given in Sec. 2 (y) of the Code on Wages, 2019, as it is.

Mr. Wall: It is not only that. They do not even know why the merger of the ESIC and the EPFO could not take place for the past 40 years, in spite of various studies undertaken by them. That merger could not materialise only because the term ‘Wages’ for the purpose of compliance and contribution, could not be given a common definition to answer the purpose of both the ESI Act, 1948 and the EPF Act, 1952.

Mr. Suffer: Exactly. If only the present Bill on the Code on
Social Security, 2019 with its Cl. 2 (80) as it is becomes law, it will be a death-knell for the entire concept of social security in India. Our nation will go down even lower in the list of civilised nations, because Social Security provided by the government has been recognised world-wide as the symbol of civilisation. This Code will make the cash benefits payable to the beneficiaries (insured persons or their dependant family members) totally unattractive with reference to the real wages earned by the insured person.

Mr. Wall: Yes, you are right. That benefit will not be useful to the workers in any real sense, unless contribution is made payable by the employer on all items of wages paid by them, as per the existing definition under Sec. 2 (22) of the present ESI Act. There would be no real Social Security to the working population. There would be no real “State Insurance” although Chaper IV of the Code on the Social Security, 2019, proclaims to the public that there would be an “Employees’ State Insurance Corporation”.

Mr. Suffer: Hey, that is not our botheration. Let us celebrate our victory in our mission to destabilise the social security system of the nation. We are not Mahatma Gandhi. I wonder whether he would have fought for independence if only he had known that people like us would be roaming around in the independent India manipulating the bureaucrats to our will, which is in fact the will of our pay-masters, the ultra and greedy rich.

Mr. Wall:  I understand. I find that there is no way for the nation to extricate itself from the web woven by you to destroy the social security system. Am I correct?

Mr. Suffer: True. As things stand,  the enemies of the working population, the ultra-rich who have already cornered more than 75% of the national resources  are commanding the politicians in power and demanding the laws they want in the manner in which they want them. It is as per their desires, I have woven a spider-net to trap and destroy the organisation which provides proper security-net to the working population. Yet, the social security system can be retrieved from the hands of these ultra rich, if the  Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour directs the bureaucrats to have a relook at the Cl. 2 (80) of the Bill on the Code on Social Security, 2019 (Bill No. 375 of 2019) and to delete the following from the definition therein for the term ‘wages’:

    1. The phrase ‘any conveyance allowance or” appearing in the Exclusion Clause (d) of the definition has to be deleted;
    2. The phrase ‘house rent allowance” appearing in the Exclusion Clause (f) of the definition has to be deleted;
    3. The phrase ‘any overtime allowance” appearing in the Exclusion Clause (h) of the definition has to be deleted;
    4. The phrase ‘any commission payable to the employee” appearing in the Exclusion Clause (i) of the definition has to be deleted;
    5. The first proviso should be totally deleted as it does not have relevance in a social security enactment. In other words, this proviso starting with the phrase “provided that for calculating” and ending with the phrase “added in wages under this clause” requires to be deleted in toto.

Mr. Wall: (After remaining silent for some time) Hey, Mr. Suffer! C’mon, let us go home. You have drunk too much. Your eyes are red.

Mr. Suffer: Yeah, yours are red too. (He tries to make a move reclining himself on the shoulders of Mr. Wall)

Mr. Wall: No. Yours are redder. Redder, much more.

(Lord Yama Dharma Raja looks at Chitragupta and nods at him to move on. Chitragupta notices that the eyes of the Lord are red.)

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Answer within 8 weeks: NHRC tells Secretary, MOL&E.

A complaint had been lodged with the Hon’ble National Human Rights Commission on 01.05.2020, about the contents of the Code on Social Security, 2019 which has been tabled on the Lok Sabha as Bill No. 375 of 2019.

The essence of the Complaint was that the action and inaction of the said Secretary, Ministry of Labour & Employment, had resulted in violation of the continued right of the  employees employed in factories and establishments covered under the ESI Act, to the existing social security benefits, which was their fundamental human rights and that he was guilty of having committed the offence under Sec.12 (a) (i) and (ii) of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.  (Copy of the complaint is available in https://flourishingesic.info/2020/05/01/complaint-to-the-nhrc-bill-violates-human-rights/

Hon’ble Commission examined the plea (Case No. 383/90/0/2020) and has given direction to the Secretary, Ministry of Labour & Employment “to take appropriate action at their end within 8 weeks associating the complainant / victim and inform them of the action taken in the matter”.

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