With the Big Billion sale right around the corner, consumers are not the only ones that get to purchase in bulk. To meet the demands of the approaching festive season, ecommerce companies are all set to hire additional manpower for meeting surge demand in business.
Such measures often lead to a debate on the utility and legality of these modes of engagement. Do these issues qualify as exploitation of labour laws? Are we living in an outdated world alleging misuse of labour laws in the new age industry?
An overall analysis of labour laws and the various ways in which the new age industries use them, including the debate on the temporary staffing model is highlighted below in the article.
Contract Labour ( Regulation & Abolition) Act, 1970 which is the main driver for such method of engagement and prevention of any exploitation thereon is a very well structured piece of legislation covering all related aspects of such labour engagement / practices, which when followed leaves no room for exploitation. The law was set in a different economic environment and there has been a strong demand from the industry to make revisions suiting the trends or needs of the modern industry. What can be distinctly said is that even in its existing form, the law has been meeting the needs largely being asked for by the new age industry which has been in existence for over decade and a half. One of the key aspects of this legislation being abolition of engagement of contract labour in Core jobs in an industry has seen very low level of enforcement or prohibition of such practices thereby meeting the requirement of the industry inadvertently while the several judicial decisions have made sure that perennial engagement of such labour not being a right for permanent employment. In addition to these, several States have taken steps in further liberalizing the enforcement by enhancing the numbers for coverage under the law ensuring a free hand to an employer in engaging such labour. The wish list of the industry for a flexible hire and fire policy with respect to project based hires or temporary staff as they are called therefore gets very much embedded within the legal provision and the consequent enforcement of such provision as we see in the today’s industry. What therefore the law further needs is a clear set of guidelines for enforcement and a liberty to handle such engagement through a self - governance mechanism, which could be subject to scrutiny of the financial or business process instead of keeping this as an option for enforcement.
Despite laws being stringent and awareness being increased against labour exploitation, concerns on such exploitation raises its ugly head in several ways and continues to be prevalent in the industry. Entry level and temporary staffing jobs are the ones that are most hit by exploitation especially in industries such as transport, construction, garments etc. Exploitation generally arises in the following three areas:
Temporary employees suffer due to poor working conditions. Amenities such as toilets, canteens, accommodation are rarely provided, especially to contractual labour. Such employees hardly receive any training in brick and mortar industries and their careers are more driven towards earnings for the day / month as opposed to a career seeking full time employee.
Another typical violation is the denial of statutory benefits. It is not unheard that a woman temporary staff when found to be pregnant, is made to resign since the costs associated with maternity benefits when extended need to be borne by the contractor who operates on wafer thin margins and prefers to avoid such costs. For a man who is sick, insurance or ESI cards are denied to him given the low level of formal engagement procedures prevalent particularly in the brick and mortar industry. This is again a moot point for self governance than enforcement and the principal employer would be in a better position to report such information than a contractor.
Labour standards are the need of the hour and the government must start working towards them and make the corporate employer observe such practices on a self governance mode in lieu of the current practice of enforcement. The classification of labour into skilled, semi skilled or unskilled is quite non uniform across states and across industries. The recent declaration of the ministry of labour of treating Security Supervisor as a Skilled manpower appears to be a hurried classification and not based on facts or practices. The industry landscape for security varies hugely between urban to semi urban to rural areas while the needs are further more distinct industry wise.
Labour standards and definition of skills are a sine qua non for better workforce management and in preventing labour exploitation.