Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a five-article series named ‘The Tales of Toil’ that discusses and highlights the realities, needs and interests of the working class in India
In the first article of the series, we looked at some of the realities faced by workers in India today. Grim as they are, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. The Indian government has been trying to take the initiative on starting a lot of programmes to alleviate the problems faced by the labour market. The Ministry of Labour and Employment has recently started the implementation of the National Career Service (NCS) Project as a Mission Mode Project for transformation of the National Employment Service to provide a variety of employment related services like vocational guidance, career counselling, information on skill development courses, apprenticeship and internships. The project has also been enhanced to interlink all employment exchanges with the National Career Service (NCS) portal so that the services can be delivered online.
The other big initiative on this front has been the Pradhan Mantri Rojgar Protsahan Yojana (PMRPY) that is being implemented by the Ministry of Labour & Employment for encouraging employment generation. Under this scheme, the Government of India will pay the Employees Pension Scheme (EPS) contribution of 8.33% for all new employees enrolling in the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) for the first three years of their employment, with the exception of the textile sector where the Government is paying the complete 12% employers’ contribution for new employees. This will be to encourage employers to recruit unemployed individuals and to formalise informal employees. The scheme is for those having earnings up to Rs. 15,000/- per month. Till 31st October 2017, more than 16,750 establishments had registered under the Yojana and the Employees Pension Scheme (EPS) contribution was reimbursed for more than 9,45,000 beneficiaries!
The government has also put in place labour codes for the betterment of the labour market in India, besides taking the initiative on bringing transparency and accountability in the enforcement of Labour Laws with the objective of strengthening the safety, health and security (both social and personal) for every worker and for bringing ease of compliance for running an establishment to help increase the creation of employment opportunities. These initiatives include governance reforms through use of e-governance measures. The Government has also introduced legislative reforms in this area by simplifying, combining and rationalising the existing labour laws into four labour codes.
This gives a comprehensive set of codes for the various aspects that affect any individual participating in the labour market. The government has also recently brought in some governance reforms using technology. The Ministry of Labour & Employment has developed a unified Web Portal ‘Shram Suvidha Portal’ for bringing transparency and accountability in enforcement of labour laws and for easing the complexity of compliance. The main features of this multilingual Portal are threefold:
The other major benefit of the Shram Suvidha Portal is the common registration scheme under the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) Act and the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) Act that has been provided on the portal. This makes it easier for people to avail a centrally managed insurance and provident fund facility. Integration of States’ Portal with Shram Suvidha Portal are also being done. As of today, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat have been integrated already.
In terms of social security, under the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) Act, new initiatives under Health Reform Agenda of ESIC 2.0 have been introduced, including maternity benefits, cancer detection and treatment facilities, telemedicine services and setting up of Employee’s State Insurance Societies (ESIS) for the administration as well as management of medical benefits and medical establishments in the states opting for it and also operating and maintaining ESIS dispensaries run by the State Government. It is good to note that there has been a raise in the ceiling for medical expenditure under the Employee’s State Insurance (ESI) Scheme from Rs. 2,150/-to Rs. 3,000/- per annum per insured person. Initiatives like E- Pehchan that sets up a process of establishing the identity of the insured person through Adhaar number have been notable additions as well. As of March 2017, the ESI Scheme has already been implemented fully in 301 districts and partially in 160 others. The coverage of the scheme has been extended geographically, particularly in the North-eastern states of India and in Andaman and Nicobar Islands. There has also been the setting up of a health scheme for select group of unorganized workers like rickshaw pullers, auto rickshaw drivers, domestic workers in selected urban areas, on a pilot basis. The number of insured persons covered under the ESI Scheme has increased to more than 3,19, 00,000 individuals, while the number of beneficiaries covered under the scheme has gone up to 12,40,00,000.
The Health Reform Agenda of ESIC 2.0 was further strengthened recently with the Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi launching a number of initiatives that include the online availability of Electronic Health Record of ESI Beneficiaries, a medical helpline number (1800 11 3839) for emergency and seeking guidance from casualty/emergency of ESIC Hospitals, and a special Out Patient Department (OPD)for senior citizens and differently-abled persons in ESIC hospitals, in the afternoon.
Some of the other salient features of ESIC 2.0 were up-grading dispensaries to six bedded hospital in phases, cardiology I treatment, yoga facilities, dialysis facilities in all ESIC Model Hospitals on a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) mode, all possible pathological facilities in hospital premises by outsourcing or by up-grading, behavioural training to para-medical and other staff of the hospitals, feedback system for all indoor patients, and proper and attractive signages at the required places in all ESIC Hospitals for guidance and proper communications to the visitors. The ESI Corporation has taken a number of decisions as well for strengthening of medical services, including increasing the bed strength of ESIC Hospitals by 50% if the bed occupancy of the concerned ESI Hospital has been consistently more than 70% in last three financial years and the opening of one doctor dispensary for more than 2000 IP family units in newly implemented areas, if no other appropriate facility is present there.
The Employees’ Provident Fund Organization (EPFO) has also been fairly active in the area of social security. It has kept the need for improving the coverage under the EPF& MPAct 1952 in sharp focus. For monitoring compliance of covered establishments, the system assisted tool in the form of Computerized Compliance Tracking System (CCTS) was provided to the field offices of EPFO, no concrete system or procedure for detection of coverable establishment was available to the compliance machinery. This necessitated the issue of revised guidelines for improving compliance and coverage. Accordingly, EPFO issued guidelines in April 2009 to all the field offices while restoring the territorial jurisdiction of Enforcement Officers, which had been briefly revoked, with due care taken to address issues of harassment from employers side by strengthening the supervisory mechanism on the conduct of the Enforcement Officers through constantly monitoring their performance and getting direct feedback from the employers, establishments, employees and their Unions/ Associations. The Employees’ Provident Fund Organization (EPFO) has had decent progress in recent years, with around 10,24,200 establishments covered as of March 2017 under the Act out of which 4,305 were exempted establishments, and the total membership in the Employees Provident Fund being 19,33,91,000 with membership in the Pension Fund being 96,98,76,000. Du ring 2016-17, 1,21,11,000 members’ claims were settled.
There has been progress on pension reforms for workers and the labour force as well. One of the long awaited demands for implementation of the minimum pension was given effect to by the Central Government by issuing Gazette Notification No. 593(E) in August 2014 that provided a minimum pension of Rs. 1,000/- per month for members/widow(er)s/disabled/ nominee/ dependent parent pensioners, Rs. 750/- per month for orphan pensioners and Rs. 250/- per month for children pensioners. The disbursement of pension is being carried out at present using the Core Banking System (CBS) platform of the pension disbursement banks. Instructions have been issued to the field offices to ensure that pension was credited to the pensioners’ accounts on the first working day of every working month.
One of the insurance schemes that I was quite interested in, purely because there need not be any contributions from the employees, is the Employee’s Deposit Linked Insurance (EDLI) Scheme, which first came into being in August 1976. This scheme is supported by a nominal contribution by the employers, while the employee has to pay nothing to avail the insurance cover. The benefits provided in case of death of an employee who was member of the scheme at the time of death include the family getting an amount linked to either the average balance in the Provident Fund account (anyone who is part of the Provident Fund scheme is automatically a part of this too) during preceding 12 months or 30 times of the average wages of Rs. 18,000 of the last 12 months of the member subject to a maximum of Rs.6,00,000, whichever is higher.
For the sake of reforms in industrial relations, the government has set up 22 Central Government Industrial Tribunal-cum-Labour Courts under the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act (1947) for adjudication of industrial disputes in organisations for which the Central Government is the appropriate Government. Through the Finance Act of 2017, the powers to settle the Appeals arising out of EPF&MP Act (1952) have also been entrusted upon these Courts/Tribunals. These Tribunals are located at various places with two each in Dhanbad, Mumbai, New Delhi and Chandigarh and one each in Kolkata, Jabalpur, Kanpur, Nagpur, Lucknow, Bangalore, Jaipur, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bhubaneswar, Ahmedabad, Ernakulam, Asansol and Guwahati. Further, there are two Industrial Tribunals at Mumbai and Kolkata that also function as National Tribunals. In order to reduce the pressure of pending cases, Lok Adalats are being organized by the Central Government Industrial Tribunal-cum-Labour Courts as an alternate grievance redressal system, with 42 Lok Adalats already having been held in the period April-October 2017, wherein 118 cases were settled.