The Code on Wages Bill, 2019
- July 31, 2019, 12:49 pm
The Code on Wages Bill, 2019
Lok Sabh passed the Wages Code Bill that will enable introduction of minimum wage for every worker besides addressing issues like delay in payment to employees. The Code on Wages Bill, 2019, which seeks to amend and consolidate the laws relating to wages and bonus and matters connected therewith, will benefit 50 crore workers.The Bill subsumes four labour laws -- Minimum Wages Act, Payment of Wages Act, Payment of Bonus Act and Equal Remuneration Act. After its enactment, all these four Acts would be repealed.The government has accepted 17 out of the 24 recommendations made by the Standing Committee which had scrutinised the similar bill introduced inthe previous Lok Sabha.
As per the bill, the tripartite committee comprising representatives of trade unions, employers and state government would fix a floor wage for workers throughout the country, "minimum wage will become right of every worker."
In addition to other things, the Bill will effectively address the problems relating to delay in payment of wages whether on monthly, weekly or daily basis. The Code universalises the provisions of minimum wages and timely payment of wages to all employees irrespective of the sector and wage ceiling. At present, the provisions of both Minimum Wages Act and Payment of Wages Act apply on workers below a particular wage ceiling working in Scheduled Employments only.
The floor wage will be computed based on minimum living conditions, benefiting about 50 crore workers across the country. At present there are 12 definitions of wages in the different Labour Laws leading to litigation besides difficulty in its implementation. The definition has been simplified in the Bill and is expected to reduce litigation and also reduce compliance cost for employers.
Highlights of the Code
The Code replaces four existing laws: (i) the Payment of Wages Act, 1936, (ii) the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, (iii) the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965, and (iv) the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976. The central government will set minimum wages for certain employments including railways, and mines. State governments will set minimum wages for all other employments.
The Code provides that a national minimum wage may be set by the central government. States cannot set minimum wages lower than the national minimum wage. Further, the central government may set separate national minimum wages for different states or regions of the country. Minimum wages must be revised by the central or state governments at an interval of five years. The overtime rate will be at least twice the normal rate of wages of the employee.
Central government may set a national minimum wage. Further, it may set separate national minimum wages for different states or regions. In this context, two questions arise:
(i) the rationale for a national minimum wage, and (ii) whether the central government should set one or multiple national minimum wages.
States have to ensure that minimum wages set by them are not lower than the national minimum wage. If existing minimum wages set by states are higher than the national minimum wage, they cannot reduce the minimum wages. This may affect the ability of states to reduce their minimum wages if the national minimum wage is lowered. The time period for revising minimum wages will be set at five years. Currently, state governments have flexibility in revising minimum wages, as long as it is not more than five years. It is unclear why this flexibility has been removed, and five years has been set for revision.
The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, prohibits employers from discriminating in wage payments as well as recruitment of employees based on gender. While the Code prohibits gender discrimination on wage-related matters, it does not include provisions regarding discrimination during recruitment.
Coverage: The provisions of the Code will apply to all employees.
The central government will set minimum wages for employments such as mines, railways, and ports among others, while the state governments will set minimum wages for all other employments. The central or state governments can set factors by which minimum wages will be determined for different types of work. These include skills required, the difficulty of work assigned, and geographical location.
National minimum wage: The Code provides that a national minimum wage may be set by the central government. The central government may set separate national minimum wages for different states or regions of the country. Minimum wages set by state governments will not be lower than the national minimum wage set by the central government. In case the existing minimum wages set by state governments are higher than the national minimum wage, they cannot reduce the minimum wages.
Methods of payment of wages: The Code allows for wages to be paid in coin, currency notes, cheque, through electronic mode, or by crediting wages to employees’ bank accounts. The central or state governments may specify, through notification, the types of employments where wages can be paid only through electronic mode or by crediting to bank accounts.
Bonus: All employees, whose wages do not exceed a particular monthly amount to be notified by the central or state governments, will be entitled to a minimum bonus of 8.33% of their annual wage. The bonus cannot exceed 20% of the annual wage of the employee. This is similar to current provisions.
Advisory boards: The central government and state governments will constitute the Central Advisory Board and State Advisory Boards respectively. These boards will consist of: (i) employers, (ii) employees in equal number as the employers, and (iii) independent persons (not exceeding one third of the total members of the board). They will advise the central or state governments on issues such as setting and revision of minimum wages and increasing employment opportunities for women, among others.
Advantages and disadvantages of a national minimum wage
As labour is included in the concurrent list, both the central and state governments can make laws regarding this subject. Currently, state governments set minimum wages in their respective states. The Code introduces a national minimum wage to be set by the central government. This raises a question whether the central government or state governments should set minimum wages.
One argument for a national minimum wage is to ensure a uniform standard of living across the country. At present, there are differences in minimum wages across states and regions. Such differences are attributed to the fact that both the central and state governments set, revise and enforce minimum wages for the employments covered by them. The introduction of a national minimum wage may help reduce these differences and provide a basic standard of living for all employees across the country.
On the other hand, it may be argued that the ability of state governments to adjust minimum wage levels may be affected, if the central government sets a national minimum wage. These adjustments may be required for variations, across the country, in costs of living such as prices of essential goods and housing. Note that the Code does not provide for consultation between the central and state governments while determining the national minimum wage.
Rationale for allowing central government to set multiple national minimum wages
The Code allows the central government to set different national minimum wages for different states and regions. There arises a question whether the central government should set one national minimum wage or multiple national minimum wages.
Various expert groups, such as the Second National Commission on Labour (2002) and the Working Group on Labour Laws (2011), had recommended introduction of a single national minimum wage for the entire country. The rationale for a single wage was to bring uniformity in minimum wages across states and industries. In addition, it would allow for easier implementation and compliance with the minimum wage law. Note that in countries which have a national minimum wage such as the United States of America and United Kingdom, a single minimum wage is set by the central government (the national minimum wage in USA only applies to certain employees engaged in interstate commerce and trade).
However, given the large regional variations in consumption and prices, the First National Commission on Labour (1969) had expressed reservation that a single national minimum wage may not be feasible. It may be argued that the choice of setting multiple national minimum wages has been given to the central government to take into account these regional variations.
States cannot lower minimum wage if national minimum wage is reduced
The Code allows the central government to set a national minimum wage. Minimum wages set by state governments may not be lower than the national minimum wage. However, if the existing minimum wage set by a state government is higher than the national minimum wage, the state cannot reduce its minimum wage. This may affect the ability of states to reduce their minimum wages if the central government decides to reduce the national minimum wage.
If economic conditions in the country change, such as a sustained period of deflation, there may arise a need for downward revision of minimum wages. In this scenario, the central government may revise the national minimum wage to a lower rate. However, Clause 9(2) prohibits states from lowering their minimum wages.
Time period for revising minimum wages set at five years
Currently, the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 allows the state governments flexibility in deciding when to revise minimum wages as long as it is not more than five years. The Code states that the time period for state governments to revise minimum wages will be set at five years. It is unclear why the flexibility in revising minimum wages has been removed, and why five years has been set for this revision. Further, note that no time period has been specified for the central government to revise the national minimum wage.
It may be argued that in the absence of set periodicity, governments can adjust minimum wages taking into account changes in the cost of living and other economic conditions. However, it has been observed that in countries without set periodicity, minimum wages sometimes remain unadjusted for long periods followed by sudden and large adjustments. If revision does not take place at set periods, businesses may be affected as employers will not know when they might suddenly face an increase in labour costs.
Provisions regarding discrimination in recruitment not included
Currently, the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, prohibits employers from discriminating in wage payments as well as recruitment of employees on the basis of gender. The Code subsumes the 1976 Act along with three other wage related laws. While provisions of the Code prohibit gender discrimination in matters related to wages, it does not include the provisions prohibiting discrimination in matters related to recruitment.