Mr. Bhartruhari Mahtab,
Hon’ble M.P & Chairman,
Standing Committee of Parliament on Labour,
New Delhi – 110011.
(Through Mr. Kulvinder Singh, Deputy Secretary, Parliament of India, House of the People,
|Sub:||Social Security Code, 2019– does not provide acceptable standards of quality of life – Ordinance route – improper – representation – submitted.
|Ref:||News item in the NDTV on 13.04.2020.|
1. I am compelled to submit this representation because of the news item that appeared In the NDTV under the caption “Amid COVID-19 Effects, Executive Orders To Fast-Track Labour Codes” on 13.04.2020 which says that “The coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown has pushed the government to take the ordinance route to formulate three of the four labour codes it is planning. I submit that any such action in a hurry to rush through the Labour Code on Social Security is fraught with dangerous consequences to the entire Indian society, for all the time to come. The facts of the case are that the last draft Bill was put in public domain for discussion on 17.09.2019 in File No. Z-13025/13/2015-LRC, giving stakeholders time to respond up to 25.10.2019 with “suggestions”, “comments” and “inputs”. But the draft was withdrawn at the behest of the PMO within three weeks, as reported by the Economic Times on 04.10.2019. To the shock of everyone, all of a sudden, a formal Code on Social Security got introduced in the Parliament on 06.12.2019 as Bill No. 375 of 2019 and the Bill was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour on 23.12.2019. The Standing Committee is now seized of the issue. I submit that this cannot be the way of deciding the livelihood of a large section of humanity, the working population of India and the stakeholders in providing social security to them.
2. There had been so many things fishy in this matter of preparation of code on social security, right from the beginning. It is common knowledge that neither the Finance Ministry nor the Labour Ministry could find out, for the past five long years, who played the mischief in smuggling in the mischievous phrase against the ESIC and the EPFO using the word, “hostages” in the Budget Speech of Mr. Arun Jaitely on 28.02.2015, without any documentary evidence and authorised source. That exactly was the point of origin of great conspiracy by certain vested interests who were all out to demolish the well-established social security structure of the entire nation. They had had illicit access to the power centres, it became evident from the reply of the Ministry of Finance in O.M. No. 2/98670/2015-RTI dated 13.05.2015. (For more, https://flourishingesic.info/2015/06/10/hostages-accusation-against-esic-epfo-without-documents/ ).
3. The benefits provided by the Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948 are the best which, every succeeding government should try to better. This Act assures that the dependants of an employee who met with a fatal employment injury would get about 80 to 90% of the wages drawn by the deceased employee as Dependants Benefit. 3/5 of it is for the spouse and the remaining 2/5 is for the children up to 25 years of age. If the child is infirm at the time of the death of the employee concerned, that child gets its share throughout its lifetime.
4. Similarly, the employee gets 80% to 90% of his wages as compensation in the event Temporary Disablement caused due to Employment Injury. One who suffers from ordinary sickness is entitled to get 60% to 70% of the wages as compensation for 91 days within two consecutive benefit periods constituting one year. In these cases, the cash benefits are in addition to the free medical aid, which is needed for the sickness or disease concerned, for which a large chain of dispensaries and hospitals have been established. The benefit called Extended Sickness Benefit that provides 80% of wages to the employees for about two years with free medical aid to them and their family members for three years is unmatched and can never be provided by any private player. The benefits payable to the insured persons in the event of their interim unemployment are immense and its importance assumes large dimension in the context the current nation-wide lockdown due to Covid virus. In order to ensure brevity, I am not dealing here with all the benefits provided under the ESI Scheme. But there is no assurance anywhere in the Social Security Code, 2019 that the benefits available as per the present statute would be continued. Leaving everything to subordinate legislation, the Code has left the entire workforce in the wilderness. When an existing law is proposed to be changed, people do have the right to know whether the benefits that would be available would be the same or more or less. That issue has not been answered to.
5. It is appropriate to recall the fact that Paul Krugman, the celebrated Nobel Prize Winner of 2011 has examined the issue in depth and warned the American legislators not to fall victim to the propagandists of privatisation of social security. It is also worth noting that a leader who wanted to privatise Social Security was looked at as an anti-people leader by the public. The presidential candidates of the USA in the year 2004 wanted to make use of that impression to villainise each other. Mr. John Kerry wanted to scare away the voters from voting again for President George. W. Bush saying that the latter was planning a surprise second term attempt to privatise social security and forecast a “disaster for America’s middle class”. “I’ll tell you what. I will never privatise social security”, Mr. Kerry said. The spokesman of Mr. George W. Bush, the Republican Party Chairman, Ed Gillespie, called the charge “just flat inaccurate”. None of the parties wanted privatisation of social security there. These incidents would show the importance of keeping the social security scheme in public sector, to provide social security benefits as a sovereign duty, in accordance with Art. 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Art. 39, 41 and 42 of the Constitution of India.
6. A Social Security Scheme provides a security-net assuring every employee that his economic condition and health condition would not be allowed to fall below that net. It is a safety net that gives peace of mind to the employee and ensures peace and harmony in the entire society, referred to at length in the Preamble of the Charter of the International Labour Organisation, established in 1919 AD.
7. The social security system established in India in the year 1948 was evolved out of the famous report of Sir William Beveridge which contributed already to the strength of the National Health Scheme in the UK. The ESI Scheme in India had been modelled on and drawn from the same ‘Beveridge Report’. Any independent analyst who examines the social security provisions of every nation for comparison and contrast would declare, unequivocally, that the ESI Act, 1948 of India is a symbol of civilisation. Every social security enactment is intended to take every society towards a civilised status. In the matter of social security, the Scandinavian countries provide examples to be emulated. Private players cannot provide real social security and they cannot have a have role in it. The Hindu, had editorially conceded on 01.01.2005, that “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 honourable exceptions, to operate health care systems for their workforce”.
8. But instead of taking the nation forward the three draft Labour Codes on Social Security prepared in the years 2017, 2018 and 2019 put the nation on the path of retardation, and consequently those efforts ended up in failure. Because the intention of those interests who drafted those Codes was not for providing real social security but to deny social security and demolish even the existing structure, while maintaining a facade that they were taking action for the welfare of all the people. These three drafts had been withdrawn from public discussion because of the incomplete, incongruous and inadequate provisions therein. It was a fact that the PMO itself had disagreed with the draft circulated on 17.09.2019 in File No. Z-13025/13/2015-LRC and ordered to withdraw that last draft. All those three drafts had, literally, been running into hundreds of pages. It is, therefore, not proper to make use of the pandemonium created by the Covid pandemic and enforce such a voluminous Labour Code on Social Security through an Ordinance.
9. The ESI Act provides a goal post, a decent and reasonable standard, for social security in the Indian context. It provides an ideal security net and it has been successful all along. What is required now is to make use of Sec. 1 (5) of the Act that enables the ESI Scheme to be extended to the establishments in all the four sectors, ( industrial, commercial, agricultural and otherwise) and provide social security of the same standard to all the employees in all those sectors. It is not necessary to prepare the code as has been done thrice by the vested interests who wanted to really deny even the existing security cover. These draft codes reduced the existing benefits instead of providing more benefits to more workers.
10. I submit that the need of the hour is to run the organisation corruption-free and not to run down the organisation and its concept. But that is not being done. Even the CAG has not been helpful to monitor the functioning right. He failed to detect the huge fraud committed in the name of construction of medical colleges and prepared a slip-shod report bearing No. 40 of 2015. When challenged in the W.P. 33775 of 2016 and W.P. 35284 of 2016 in the Hon’ble High Court of Madras, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India could not file any counter-affidavit, for the past four long years, while the Cabinet Secretary himself had filed his counter-affidavit within a year. I submit that it is worth probing into the puzzling silence of the CAG who is, now, afraid of judicial review of his inactions and lapses on this serious issue. This CAG has, through his report No. 40 of 2015, cheated the President, the Parliament and the public in this matter and is, deliberately, trying to avoid accountability. I submit that it is there where the government should concentrate.
11. 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).
12. But the intention of the forces which caused the preparation of the three drafts on Labour Code on Social Security in2017, 2018 and 2019, was to radically reduce the acceptable standards of quality of life when the workers meet with various contingencies in life. These three drafts reduced even the existing time-tested benefits provided under the ESI Act. These drafts made the government to disown its constitutional responsibility and gave freehand to private players to play havoc with the lives of the working population. No explanation had ever been given by the brains behind those drafts to justify their attempt. Silence cannot be the answer to valid questions which the persons who drafted those drafts found uncomfortable. Now, the news item mentioned in the reference cited has caused genuine alarm and apprehension in the minds of the people about the fate of social security in the nation.
13. I submit that the very introduction of ‘the Code on Social Security, 2019’ in the Parliament as Bill No. 375 of 2019 on 06.12.2019 is premature, as the draft Bill placed in public domain on 17.09.2019 had been withdrawn at the instance of the PMO, as reported in the Economic Times on 04.10.2019. I, therefore, fervently pray that the mode of ordinance may not be resorted to for enforcing any Labour Code on Social Security, when the need of the hour, after the withdrawal of the third draft circulated on 17.09.2019, is to do the preliminary work of preparing a fresh draft Labour Code on Social Security and putting it in public domain for public discussion.
14. As there has been no real public discussion on the contents of the Bill placed before the Parliament on 06.12.2019, I request that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour may be pleased to recommend withdrawal of the Bill No. 375 of 2019 from the Parliament for placing it in the public domain first inviting ‘suggestions”, “comments”, and “inputs”, from the stakeholders, as called for in the letter dated 17.09.2019 of the Ministry of Labour.
With profound regards,