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New Code on Wages

Topic covered:

  1. Schemes for the vulnerable sections of the society.

 

New Code on Wages

 

What to study?

For prelims and mains: Key features of the new code, need, significance, need for uniform wage across the country.

 

Context: The Code on Wages Bill, 2019 Introduced in Lok Sabha.

The bill will amalgamate the Payment of Wages Act, 1936, the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965, and the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976.

 

Key highlights:

  1. Coverage: The Code will apply to all employees. The central government will make wage-related decisions for employments such as railways, mines, and oil fields, among others. State governments will make decisions for all other employments.
  2. Wages include salary, allowance, or any other component expressed in monetary terms. This does not include bonus payable to employees or any travelling allowance, among others.
  3. Floor wage:According to the Code, the central government will fix a floor wage, taking into account living standards of workers.  Further, it may set different floor wages for different geographical areas.  Before fixing the floor wage, the central government may obtain the advice of the Central Advisory Board and may consult with state governments.   
  4. The minimum wages decided by the central or state governments must be higher than the floor wage. In case the existing minimum wages fixed by the central or state governments are higher than the floor wage, they cannot reduce the minimum wages.
  5. Fixing the minimum wage: The Code prohibits employers from paying wages less than the minimum wages.  Minimum wages will be notified by the central or state governments.  This will be based on time, or number of pieces produced.  The minimum wages will be revised and reviewed by the central or state governments at an interval of not more than five years.  While fixing minimum wages, the central or state governments may take into account factors such as: (i) skill of workers, and (ii) difficulty of work. 
  6. Overtime: The central or state government may fix the number of hours that constitute a normal working day.  In case employees work in excess of a normal working day, they will be entitled to overtime wage, which must be at least twice the normal rate of wages.   
  7. Payment of wages:Wages will be paid in (i) coins, (ii) currency notes, (iii) by cheque, (iv) by crediting to the bank account, or (v) through electronic mode.  The wage period will be fixed by the employer as either: (i) daily, (ii) weekly, (iii) fortnightly, or (iv) monthly.
  8. Deductions: Under the Code, an employee’s wages may be deducted on certain grounds including: (i) fines, (ii) absence from duty, (iii) accommodation given by the employer, or (iv) recovery of advances given to the employee, among others.  These deductions should not exceed 50% of the employee’s total wage.
  9. Determination of bonus:All employees whose wages do not exceed a specific monthly amount, notified by the central or state government, will be entitled to an annual bonus.  The bonus will be at least: (i) 8.33% of his wages, or (ii) Rs 100, whichever is higher.  In addition, the employer will distribute a part of the gross profits amongst the employees.  This will be distributed in proportion to the annual wages of an employee.  An employee can receive a maximum bonus of 20% of his annual wages.
  10. Gender discrimination: The Code prohibits gender discrimination in matters related to wages and recruitment of employees for the same work or work of similar nature.  Work of similar nature is defined as work for which the skill, effort, experience, and responsibility required are the same.  
  11. Advisory boards: The central and state governments will constitute advisory boards.  The Central Advisory Board will consist of: (i) employers, (ii) employees (in equal number as employers), (iii) independent persons, and (iv) five representatives of state governments.  State Advisory Boards will consist of employers, employees, and independent persons.  Further, one-third of the total members on both the central and state Boards will be women.  The Boards will advise the respective governments on various issues including: (i) fixation of minimum wages, and (ii) increasing employment opportunities for women.

  

Significance:

This is expected to effectively reduce the number of minimum wage rates across the country to 300 from about 2,500 minimum wage rates at present.

 

Key Issues and Analysis:

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  4. 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.

 

Need for a national minimum wage:

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