Central Govt and Public Sectors in dock for flouting Contract Employment laws

NEW DELHI: As many as nine central government departments, including the Railways and the Ministries of Finance, Commerce and Petroleum, could be in the dock for flouting employment laws governing contract workers.

The Central Labour Commissioner has sought compliance reports for contract workers deployed in several ministries, including the commissioner’s own office in the Labour Ministry, which uses the services of 20 contract employees via a private software firm.

The action was initiated on specific complaints by the parliamentary consultative committee, which has flagged the poor working conditions and non-compliance of labour laws for contract workers hired by several central government departments and public sector enterprises.

According to a communique the commissioner has also sought the compliance position on provident fund contributions for contractual employees deployed in the government.

These include nearly 1,800 workers in the health and family welfare ministry, about 700 contract workers in the railways, and over 445 such workers in the expenditure and revenue departments of the finance ministry.

The development assumes significance as the high reliance on contract workers among government departments and PSUs has forced the Centre to put in deep freeze a four-year-old proposal to amend the 1971 Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act.

The amendments propose parity in the working conditions, salaries and benefits for workers doing similar jobs, in an overhaul of laws aimed at ensuring that the rising contractualisation of the workforce doesn’t foment industrial unrest.

The labour ministry has faced stiff resistance from several ministries over fears that the changes in Contract Labour Act will increase their financial liabilities.

According to a Centre-commissioned study by the VV Giri National Labour Institute, the proposed changes to the law will cost the government Rs 11,000 crore annually, while the private sector will have to bear an additional burden of Rs 5,500 crore.

“Though the changes to the Contract Labour law have been referred to a committee of secretaries, there has been no resolution of the issues despite years after it was set up,” said a senior official aware of the deliberations of the panel led by cabinet secretary Ajit Seth.

“With so many ministries strongly opposing the move due to their own interests, I don’t expect the changes to see the light of day.”