In Focus: Why Is It Important to Bridge the Gender Inequality Gap in India

The Global Gender Gap Index of 2022[1], released by the World Economic Forum, in July placed India at the 135th position out of 146 countries. Contrastingly, in 2021, India was placed in the 140th position out of 156 countries. The Global Gender Gap Index benchmarks the current state and evolution of gender parity across four areas of concern- economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival, and political empowerment. At present, India fares the worst in the health and survival category.

Discrimination affects many aspects of the lives of women, from career development and progress to mental health disorders. While Indian laws on rape, dowry and adultery have women’s safety at heart, these highly discriminatory practices are still taking place at an alarming rate.

What is Gender Inequality?

Gender inequality is a social phenomenon in which men and women are not treated equally. The treatment may arise from distinctions regarding biology, psychology, or cultural norms prevalent in society. Some of these distinctions are empirically grounded, while others appear to be social constructs. It has serious and long-lasting consequences for women and other marginalised genders. Exposure to violence, objectification, discrimination and socioeconomic inequality can lead to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and PTSD. Gender inequality in education has a direct impact on economic growth by lowering the average quality of human capital. In addition, economic growth is indirectly affected by the impact of gender inequality on investment and population growth.

In many developing countries, the disparity in access to quality education between girls and boys adversely impacts the girls’ ability to build human and social capital, narrowing their job opportunities and reducing their entitled wages in labour markets. Often women and girls are confined to fulfilling roles as mothers, wives, and caretakers. Gender norms position girls as caretakers, which leads to discrimination with respect to the distribution of domestic duties. 47% of the Indian population is female, out of which only 19% of the population actively contributes to the country’s GDP.[2]If India were to bridge this gap, it could expand the GDP by a third by 2050, equating to $6 trillion.

Rural households that are headed by women suffer more from poverty than those headed by men. Social and cultural barriers, a lack of kindergartens, as well as the burden of unpaid housework, prevent women from developing their skills and from generating an income.

Within the context of population and development programs, gender equality is critical because it will enable women and men to make decisions that impact more positively on their own sexual and reproductive health as well as that of their spouses and families.

 

Gender Inequality in the Workplace

Men and women alike may face issues regarding gender inequality in the workplace, although women typically deal with it more often than men. Gender inequality occurs in the workplace due to traditional gender roles and persistent gender bias. Traditional gender roles may be indicative of how much extra time and effort an individual can put into their jobs since employees are usually expected to go above and beyond to prove their worth. There are gender biases that may inadvertently give the advantage to one gender over the other in the workplace, such as the idea that men have more physical capability or that women are better in nurturing roles.

Gender equality in the workplace is very important for one to grow and develop a business.

When a business proactively takes steps to resolve gender discrimination, it automatically enables them to increase productivity, alleviate conflict, and reduce the chances of legal issues. Gender equality is the key to capturing skills, ideas and perspectives that each gender has to offer. People prefer to work at companies that prioritise equality, diversity, and inclusion. Gender inclusion in the workplace varies depending on the business. However, excluding an individual from team projects, company outings, meetings and necessary decision-making because of gender falls within the realm of gender inequality. When an individual is not included in tasks or events, it can prevent them from becoming productive workers.

Gender equality in the workplace means employees of all genders have access to the same rewards, opportunities, and resources at a company, including:

  • Each gender can fully participate in the workplace.
  • Equal opportunities for each gender for promotions, and career progression to achieve leadership positions.
  • Equal pay and benefits for equal work.
  • Equal consideration of needs.
  • Acceptance rather than discrimination against those who have caregiving and family responsibilities.

There are several benefits for companies who maintain gender equality in the workplace, including the following:

  • Positive company culture A gender-equal work environment where all employees feel respected and valued creates an overall more positive workplace for all your employees. When you have a gender-diverse environment, your employees will likely notice that their co-workers have talents and strengths they don’t possess themselves. The appreciation for these differences will help promote an environment of respect among the team.
  • More innovation and creativity People of different genders bring unique talents, strengths and skills into the workplace, which can improve collaboration and result in a stimulating and creative environment. In fact, companies often find that gender diversity can lead to greater innovation within the workplace.
  • Build a great reputation – By promoting gender equality in the workplace, a business can foster a great company reputation with the outside world. People who have similar values will want to work for them, and with happy employees, the business will have a positive and productive workforce.
  • Improved conflict resolution – Strong communication skills among employees are essential for company-wide success. People of different genders naturally communicate differently, with some preferring to communicate problems directly and others working as peacemakers. When you combine these different communication styles in one work environment, you can more easily achieve conflict resolution.

 

The Legal View

A look at some of the decisions court has taken over the years, championing women’s rights in the workplace, at home, and in public spaces to give women their due:

 

Daughters’ Rights in Hindu Undivided Family Property (HUF)

A landmark judgment in protecting women’s rights in the context of the family is the SC judgment in Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma (August 2020) where the court held that daughters would have equal coparcenary rights in Hindu Undivided Family property (HUF) by virtue of their birth and could not be excluded from inheritance, irrespective of whether they were born before the 2005 amendment to the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.

Before the 2005 amendment, there was marked discrimination in determining the rights of a son and daughter in claiming the inheritance. A son could claim a share in HUF property “as a matter of right,” however, a daughter did not have any rights after marriage as she was considered to be a part of her husband’s family. Even after the amendment, judgments of various courts and the Supreme Court itself in Prakash v. Phulvati (2016) held that a daughter could be eligible to be a co-sharer only if the daughter and the father were alive as of September 9, 2005 (the date of the amendment). The Supreme Court, by virtue of the Vineeta Sharma judgment, extended the benefit of the 2005 amendment and legitimised the position of women as an integral part of their father’s families.

 

Protection at the Workplace

The court has also sought to provide for the safety of women in the workplace by protecting them from sexual harassment. In the case of Vishakha v. State of Rajasthan [1997 AIR 3011 (SC)], the court framed detailed guidelines for employers to follow to provide for a mechanism to redress the grievances of their female employees. The court felt the need to develop guidelines to “check the evil of sexual harassment of working women at all workplaces” in the “absence of domestic law occupying the field.” These guidelines were eventually formalised as legislation with the passing of The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, a vital law to protect millions of women who enter the country’s workforce every year.

 

Participation in Defence

The Supreme Court also held in its 2021 judgement in the case of The Secretary, Ministry of Defence v. Babita Puniya & Ors. that all women army officers are eligible for permanent commissions, allowing them to be in commanding roles in the defence forces. Women officers are now on par with their male counterparts when it comes to promotions, rank, benefits and pensions, thereby fortifying their position in the defence sector, an institution with rigid gender norms.

The court also slammed the Indian Army on August 18, 2021, for disallowing women to appear in National Defence Academy (NDA) examinations. The Supreme Court ordered that women can also sit for National Defence Academy (NDA) examinations. It allowed women candidates to take the examination and said the army’s policy for women was based on “gender discrimination.” The Supreme Court told the Centre that women candidates must be allowed to sit for the entrance exam to the National Defence Academy in November 2021. It cannot defer for one year. Further, medical standards should be tentatively notified and UPSC to issue a corrected notification for the November exam.

 

Acid attack

The Supreme Court, in the case of Laxmi v. Union of India (2014), a PIL brought about by Laxmi, an acid attack survivor, issued guidelines for the welfare of acid attack survivors, besides imposing a country-wide restriction on the sale of acid and compensation to the victims. The judgement led to an amendment in the criminal law, making acid attacks a specific offence and framing a victim compensation scheme for the survivors.

 

Triple Talaq

In the case of Shayra Bano v Union of India [2017 SCC 963 (SC)], the court declared that the practice of instant triple talaq (talaq-e-bidat) is against the basic tenets of the Quran. Talaq-e-bidat is a practice that gives a man the right to divorce his wife by uttering ‘talaq’ three times in one sitting, without his wife’s consent. The court directed the Centre to pass legislation in this regard, which led to the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights of Marriage) Act, 2019. As per the Act, any Muslim husband who pronounces triple talaq on his wife shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend up to three years and a fine. The judgement also saw a heartening departure from the conservative approach taken by the court in Mohd. Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum (1985). The court also departed from its traditional reluctance to issue judgments in matters of faith while passing its verdict in the Sabrimala (2019) issue. The court held that devotion cannot be subjected to gender discrimination and permitted the entry of women of all ages into the Sabarimala Temple despite a centuries-old custom banning the entry of menstruating women.

The expanding sphere of women in civil society, politics and the armed forces in India has been marshalled and punctuated by various judgments of the court. These judgements have slowly but surely chipped away at some of the anachronistic customs and norms that have long kept women on the sidelines and have paved the way for the executive and the legislature to take up steps to uphold women’s rights in the country.

As the importance of women’s rights in the public and private spheres continue to grow, it is imperative that the law too continues to evolve, accommodating their aspirations and desires.

In March, 2021, in the case of Lt. Col. Nitisha and Ors. v. Union of India, the Supreme Court issued a judgement declaring that the Army’s criteria on Permanent Commissions indirectly discriminated against women. In this case, 86 Army officers had approached the SC alleging gender-based discrimination in the Indian Army. The army officers were women who had a Short Service Commission (SSC) and were applying for a Permanent Commission (PC) in the army. Although the criteria adopted to select women PC officers were nearly identical to the ones used for men, some sub-criteria imposed an unfair burden on women. The Court held that the Army’s criteria indirectly discriminated against women officers. The Bench stated that invisible forms of discrimination must be eliminated to achieve substantive equality.

 

SC Gets Three New Women Judges

On October 31, 2021, nine new Chief Justices were appointed by the Supreme Court. Out of the total, three are female judges, a first in the Indian judicial appointments history. This decision was historic because for the first time these many women judges have been appointed and another reason was for the first-time camera was allowed inside the swearing-in room. The newly appointed judges are Justices Hima Kohli, BV Nagarathna and Bela M. Trivedi. Justice Nagarathna is going to be the first female Chief Justice of India in 2027.

 

Conclusion

 

According to Swami Vivekananda, “That nation which doesn’t respect women will never become great now and nor will it ever in the future.” A concerted effort and the support of everyone can and shall pave the way for a truly equal society.

However, skewered gender roles do not provide enough opportunities to improve access to education for women. As a first step, actively breaking the gender bias on the domestic front is the key. Only when women are seen as more than caregivers and housekeepers, will their individuality and potential be truly respected. In this mission, parents play a crucial role, they should teach their child to be respectful towards all genders and refrain from typecasting genders into specific roles. Many other developmental schemes and initiatives for improving the status of women havealso been implemented, but the law and the judiciary can only extend assistance to a certain limit. Real change will only ensue when we as a community and society take conscious initiatives to break the age-old biased practices embedded in our culture.

Skewered gender roles do not provide enough opportunities to improve access to education for women. As a first step, actively breaking the gender bias on the domestic front is the key. Only when women shall be seen as more than caregivers and housemakers, will their individuality and potential be truly respected. In this mission, parents play a crucial role, they should teach their children to be respectful towards all genders and refrain from typecasting genders into specific roles. Many developmental schemes and initiatives for improving the status of women also have been implemented, but the law and the judiciary can only extend assistance to a limit. A real change shall only ensue when we as a community and society take conscious initiatives to break the age-old biased practices embedded in our culture.  

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Layoffs, Contracts and Lawyers: Connecting the Dots

In recent weeks, there has been a lot of news about startups laying off employees. Edtech companies like UnAcademy and Vedantu, used car sales companies like Cars 24 and E-commerce players like Meesho have all reportedly laid off people. As many as 8000 people have been laid off in the first four months of 2022. The irony is that this is happening even as the startup ecosystem raised more than US$10 Billion in capital during the Jan-March 2022 quarter. IVCA-EY data indicates that in April 2022, the capital raised was around US$1.6 Billion- less than half the sum in the corresponding period in 2021. Last year saw a record number of Indian unicorns emerge.

It is not that there is a sudden scarcity of risk capital. What is happening is that VC funds and other investors are taking a long hard look at business models and valuations. Cash burn rates and unit economics, which were always important elements of valuation, have become front and centre again, after a prolonged period of time that saw some investors take their eyes off the ball as they frenetically looked for ventures to invest in. This long bull run for startups also encouraged many executives to throw their hats into the ring; they relied on their personal expertise and experience to attract investors.

There are also external factors whose unfortunate confluence in the last couple of months has contributed to this situation and exacerbated the stressors. The Ukraine invasion has undoubtedly impacted energy prices; the lockdown of large Chinese cities including Shanghai and Beijing has further disrupted global supply chains that were already affected due to the pandemic. These have thrown unit economics out of gear. Inflation rates around the world have soared- in some countries, the prevailing inflation is at the highest level in over a decade or even longer. In response, central banks around the world have raised interest rates; in India too, the RBI raised interest rates more than anticipated and ahead of when such action was expected. Further increases in interest rates are expected, as central banks seek to suck out the money supply to cool inflation. This means that in the short term, growth expectations will need to be moderated. This affects valuations (something that is also visible in how stock prices of listed companies are fluctuating).

Investors and company managements are therefore looking for ways to cut costs. Rationalizing the workforce is one way to achieve this goal. During a euphoric phase, businesses tend to hire more than they need, often at higher compensation levels than are sustainable. Many companies that have laid off their people continue to advertise extensively on national television. Logically, cutting down on TVCs and using lower-cost digital marketing will be another cost-cutting lever. As the market tightens, business plans will need to be revised. Growth will moderate, and high valuations will get harder to defend. The lack of clarity surrounding when various events will be resolved adds to the uncertainty around when an economic rebound will occur and what the new operating environment will look like. Indeed, Y Combinator, the highly successful Silicon Valley accelerator has advised founders of the companies in its portfolio to “plan for the worst” and focus all efforts in the next month on extending their runway. They are advising ventures to ensure survival even if fresh funds cannot be raised for 24 months.

Sometimes, there are contractual constraints on implementing cost-cutting actions. While some of these clauses may be legitimate and the result of deliberate negotiations between the parties, I have also seen “cut-paste” clauses in contracts; these are taken directly from other contracts downloaded from the internet or obtained in other ways. Many entrepreneurs succumb to taking this shortcut because it saves them the lawyer’s fees for drafting customized contracts. While some money can be saved, doing so creates risk because the business context in which a contract is drafted varies- and blindly lifting clauses can render the entire contract meaningless, hard to implement or leave entities open to expensive litigation.

Founders and leadership teams need to make better-informed decisions around every facet of their business strategy and operations. This includes the kind of capital to be raised, the timing, quantum and terms. Depending on the nature of business, expensive office space may not be needed; the savings on rentals/lease payments can be deployed elsewhere. Hiring frenzies must be avoided just because someone good is available. If the candidate is indeed likely to add value to the venture, maybe the compensation can be structured differently, so that risk of losing a good resource is reduced. Lawyers and Business Advisors who understand business- especially in the world of startups- can guide entrepreneurs so that they don’t pay a high price later, since a stitch in time saves nine!

Image Credits: Photo by aymane jdidi from Pixabay 

Founders and leadership teams need to make better-informed decisions around every facet of their business strategy and operations. This includes the kind of capital to be raised, the timing, quantum and terms. Depending on the nature of business, expensive office space may not be needed; the savings on rentals/lease payments can be deployed elsewhere. Hiring frenzies must be avoided just because someone good is available. If the candidate is indeed likely to add value to the venture, maybe the compensation can be structured differently, so that risk of losing a good resource is reduced. 

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New Labour Codes : How to Prepare for the Challenges Ahead?

A couple of years ago, India’s Parliament approved four new Labour Codes that cover important areas such as Wages, Social Security, Industrial Relations and Occupational Safety and Health. Labour reforms have been a long-pending agenda item for successive governments. The creation of these codes was aimed at modernizing, rationalizing and strengthening India’s arguably archaic labour-related laws. The new codes are also intended to attract investments into various sectors and make it easier to do business in India.

Although the Central Government notified these four new Labour Codes in September 2020, even now, a majority of states have not notified rules; less than half the states have even come up with draft rules. There has been some talk in recent days that the government may decide to implement the new codes effective 1 July. While this has not been officially confirmed, the inevitability of the implementation of the new codes makes it important for state governments to quickly come up with their draft rules and allow time for consultation so that loopholes and lacunae can be plugged before they come into effect. There will naturally be protests against the new laws because any change causes pain by forcing people outside their zones of comfort.

Once the new labour codes come into effect, two key changes will occur that will directly impact employees and organizations:

Working hours: It is expected that working hours may increase from the current 9 hours a day to 12 hours a day. The flip side, however, is that employees will need to work only four days a week, instead of the current five.

Take-home salary: The new wage code stipulates that an employee’s “basic salary” must be at least 50% of the total salary. This will cause changes to allowances and other perquisites that are widely used for tax planning purposes. A higher Basic Salary also means that deductions towards retirement benefits such as provident fund and gratuity will increase. In turn, this will reduce the net take-home salary for employees. However, this also means that employees will accumulate a much larger corpus of money when they retire, in effect, trading off current consumption with future security.

Adapting to this change will require companies to revisit policies, employment terms and contracts and even operating procedures. It may require fresh investments in amenities for workers and other employees at factories, construction sites, stores etc. New compliance requirements will arise, which means that business leaders, HR teams and those responsible for compliance must gear up to ensure that the organisation remains compliant with the new set of rules. This task becomes more difficult because the new codes have amalgamated a number of laws. For example, four laws have been amalgamated into the Wage Code, three into the Industrial Relations Code, nine into the Social Security Code and thirteen laws into the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020.

Organizations must also keep in mind that these new codes will need to be implemented in tandem with hybrid ways of working. Even when employees were required to work for only 9 hours a day, there have been many instances of individuals (across industries and companies) working for 14 hours a day in a “work from home” model. Care must be taken to ensure that work-life balance is not further damaged by the extended working hours that the new codes provide for.

Business organizations with offices and production facilities in multiple locations spread across a number of states will need to be extra careful to ensure compliance with every state’s laws. Enterprises considering M&A will need to evaluate the costs of compliance with the new labour codes as part of their due diligence and strategic/financial assessment during valuation. Expert advice will be needed to minimize the pain that will inevitably accompany the transition. But given the intent of the new labour codes, it is fair to say that if they are backed by pragmatic rules, they will surely play a key role in accelerating the country’s economic growth in the years ahead.

Image Credits: Photo by Pop & Zebra on Unsplash

Adapting to this change will require companies to revisit policies, employment terms and contracts and even operating procedures. It may require fresh investments in amenities for workers and other employees at factories, construction sites, stores etc. 

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Legal Framework for the Workforce of the Future

Every economic collapse paves the way to a transformative legacy, the pandemic is no exception. Globally, since 2020, the fluctuating and deliberate government-imposed lockdowns have forced the replacement of traditional work operations with automated labour platforms, virtual collaborations and digitized workforce interfaces[1]. According to International Labor Organization (ILO), the work from home arrangement has become an unexpected experiment that has managed to break the traditional barriers of working life and technology.

As the ‘new normal’ fixes its roots into the traditional office space, it is imperative to structure a regulatory legal framework that governs the ‘workforce of the future.’ Considering 96% of the organizations have successfully switched to work-from-home set-ups domestically since 2020, it is time for India to incorporate the new work culture into its legislative framework, in alignment with countries worldwide[2].

This article deliberates upon the exigency and structure of new work from the home regulatory regime, by mapping the work from home policies across the globe and analyzing the gaps in the present labour laws in the country that demand a more sincere reflection in the backdrop of the ‘new normal.’

Need of Comprehensive Legal Framework for Work from Home in India

 

          Fig: The economist[3]                                                              Fig: Statista[4]

The above two graphs illustrate two different statistics of work from home; graph 1 shows WFH working hours of employees per week in western countries, while graph 2 shows a survey of Indian millennials on lifestyle and work during a pandemic.

As per Graph 1, Britain has the highest percentage of work from home per week, with approximately 40% of the employees’ working-from-home for 5 or more days per week from 9 AM to 5 PM. In stark contrast, the Indian survey shows that work from home increased the office workload of 81% of employees which indicates that Indian employees are utilizing more energy than an average British employee. 

Additionally, 55% of Indian employees claim they do not enjoy work from home and 57% of employees say that work from home has pulled their career back. From these statistics, it appears that the issues outlined hereabove are the specific product of a lack of legislative or contractual conventions surrounding the treatment of employees participating through the Work From Home Model[5], and they indicate the urgent need to implement a compulsory legal framework in India governing work-from-home regime to prevent exploitation and loss of valuable human resource in the country, especially in the very important the service sector.

In this light, the Government of India has proposed to formalize work from home facilities for the service sector, leaving the manufacturing sector beyond the legislative scope. The parameters of the regulation are yet to be ascertained[6].  

Lacunas of the Extant Labour Codes in Dealing with the Work From Home Arrangement

 

  1. The draft Model Standing Orders for Service Sector 2020 – The policy is under the discretion of companies for implementation subject to the appointment of an employee. However, this is a very loosely framed guideline to build a sustainable framework for work from home. There needs to be a strong regulatory framework that recognises the need to work from home, protects the interest of the employees and the employers and deliver resolutions accordingly. However, the draft Model Standing Orders may get complicated with the individual state labour laws.
  2. Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020 (OSH Code) – The OSH Code defines the working place of employees as “establishment” refers to the physical working place of employees[7]. The OSH does not recognize work from home as the working place of the employee.[8] This puts relevant questions of safety and health of workers working outside a physical establishment of a company. As work from home becomes the new norm, the term “establishment” shall have to be broadened to normalize and adapt for the workforce of the future. Further, the OSH Code needs to ascertain strict compliance to working hours and leave policy, including making the employer liable to pay double wages for any work done beyond working hours/shifts/during leaves, also, security to employer’s data, equipment, confidential information, reverse engineering, data theft, etc., along with strict provisions curbing moonlighting by employees may be included to protect the interest of all parties concerned in a work from home scenario.       
  3. Code on Social Security, 2020 (CSS) – under the CSS few key definitions of terms that are present significantly digress from the international definitions of ILO[9], for example –“home-based work”, “remote work”, “telework”, “work at home”, “information and communications technology” etc. Categorizing and defining such terms in a unified manner is crucial for policymaking and regulating. For instance, the ILO definition of “work at home” overlaps with “home-based work” defined under CSS, but both terms have different meanings, and they collectively exclude “work from home”. The definition of “establishment”, “employment injury”, and other related provisions may be aligned with the concept of work from home to provide security to the employees in a work from the home setup.
  4. Code on Wages, 2019 (CoW)[10] – Companies has cut the pay of their employees since the economic downturn, particularly during and after the second wave. Several other factors[11] affected the evaluation of wages and allowances of employees working from home. Therefore, it is important to amend the exclusive legal framework for WFH so that employees get the promised salaries, and companies are under the express liability to pay their employees with a contractual obligation.

Additionally, to ensure that the laws pertaining to work from home are effective and efficient, it is pertinent that issues specific to work from home set up, such as the ones detailed below, are thoroughly studied and understood, before framing the regulatory framework:

  • Measurement of the time of work and conduct of work by the employee in a remote environment – The approach legislature takes with respect to the same and how the same may be incorporated into the wage structure.
  • Measures to protect employees from injury, damages, losses, etc., in a work from home set up –  Requirement on employers to provide the necessary equipment, connectivity, seating arrangement, periodic risk assessment, etc.
  • Maintenance of equipment provided to employee in pursuit of work from home, and regulation of use thereof, with consideration to allied privacy concerns.
  • The manner in which misconduct and harassment of various degrees will be evaluated in the remote environment and the application of existing legislation to such scenario.
  • Maintenance of confidentiality, exclusivity and contained environment of the employees during working hours in such remote environment, including restriction on moonlighting, data theft, confidentiality breach, reverse engineering, etc.

With the above concerns in mind, it would be pertinent to explore instances in which comparative jurisdictions where such concerns were addressed.

A Comparative Overview on Formulated and Implemented “Work from Home” Laws Across the World

 

In the recent pandemic “work from home” emerged as a pragmatic approach for employers of most sectors across the world making work feasible for individuals primarily involved in white-collar jobs. However, it did bring major challenges and inconsistencies for employees who were made to work after office hours were overburdened and sometimes exploited. Observing the changing workplace scenario, governments were proactive in finding solutions to make employees dependable and employers accountable.

Spain: Spain legislated on remote work in September 2020. Remote work must be voluntary and reversible, and formalized in a written agreement without prejudice to general employment legislation or existing collective bargaining agreements. The law clarifies whom it applies to, i.e., those under an employment contract, and who have rendered “remote work” for a minimum period of three months, for at least 30% of an employee’s working day, or an equivalent percentage based on the contract. It also differentiates between “telework” and “work from home”. Companies are to provide resources, equipment and consumables necessary to perform and maintain work remotely. Further, employees have a right to payment and compensation for expenses on equipment, the right to privacy and data protection, and a right to digital disconnection, amongst others. At the same time, the law empowers employers to ensure that remote employees fulfil their duties well.

Finland: Finland has provided flexible working opportunities for years. This is partly because of legislation, allowing employees the right to adjust their working hours for maximum flexibility, since the mid-1990s. The Finnish Working Time Act, 2019 was recently amended[12] to introduce key changes towards creating adaptive working arrangements on flexible work hours, flexible working arrangements and the introduction of ‘working time accounts’. The Act has several features affording flexibility. Employers and employees may agree to flexible working hour arrangements, subject to regular working time not exceeding 40 hours and adjustment of excess hours worked. The Act also permits individual flexible work arrangements where employees decide on placement and performance at least half of the working time, setting out a number of aspects such an arrangement must cover (such as days on which working hours may be allocated, weekly rest periods and fixed working hours). The Act enables agreements on working time accounts, where working hours, earned time-off and monetary benefits can be exchanged for time off. Agreements on working time accounts must cover certain elements.

The United Kingdom: Flexible Working Arrangements (FWAs) were allowed via a process of proposal and negotiation in 2002, to assist employees with care-taking responsibilities in requesting FWAs. The UK’s approach to flexible work is predicated on three main pillars viz. qualifying employees proposing changes in relation to hours, time and location of work; an employer’s duty to consider such application in a “reasonable manner” with refusal only on pre-specified grounds (such as additional costs and inability to re-organise work amongst existing employees); and escalation to employment tribunals by employees, in limited circumstances. The UK’s approach is considered “light-touch regulation”, and is based on a foundation of dialogue and negotiation between employers and employees. Australia and New Zealand have also adopted similar legislation.

The European Union: The European Union (EU) has a “Work-Life Balance Directive” adopted in 2019, which provides FWAs for parents and caregivers.

Singapore: Singapore has an interesting alternative to the rights-based approach to FWAs adopted in the UK. Through a set of voluntary “Tripartite Standard on Flexible Work Arrangements” formulated in consultation with multiple stakeholders, employers can adopt practices that assist employees better managing work-life needs, while enhancing productivity. Such employers are employers of choice, and can use a logo-mark in recruitment and marketing.

Re-evaluation of Laws Necessary to Accommodate the New Work Culture

 

In a nutshell, the present labour and employment laws in India are incapable of addressing the concerns of work-from-home regime. Hence, re-evaluation of the present laws is important to amalgamate the “Work From Home” model into legislation to ensure welfare of the employees, workers and other relevant stakeholders. The above discussed international legislations aim to sustain a healthy and safe working environment for the employees within and outside the “establishment”. Finland and Singapore’s legislation provides flexible working hours and arrangements. The UK approach of “light touch regulation” is also innovative and promotes healthy relations between employees and employers. Taking que from the regulatory frameworks of countries across the world, India should aim to formalize “Work From Home” policies that benefit the employees while balancing the burden on employers. Worker and employee rights should be the central focus of development in the country, in order to fully reap the gains of this transformative legacy!

The present labour and employment laws of India are incapable of addressing the concerns of the work-from-home regime. Hence, re-evaluation of the present laws is important to amalgamate the WFH model into legislation to ensure the welfare of the employees, workers and other relevant stakeholders.

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Income Tax Returns for AY 2020-21: Ready Referencer

With the extended time limit for filing of Income Tax Return (for AY 2020-21), u/s. 139(1), without late fees, for Non-Audit cases and for Non-Corporate assessees of 31st December 2020 fast approaching, given below is a quick guide for ready reference of some key changes that have been made in the respective Income tax return forms for this year.

Further, the conditions and features for eligibility of forms that are applicable for filing the correct income tax returns are also specified as follows:

Key Procedural Changes:

  • ITR 1 to ITR 4 can be filed using PAN or Aadhar by Individuals.
  • The submitted ITR forms display the ITR-V with a watermark ‘Not Verified’ until the same is verified either electronically by EVC or by sending the same via post after manual signing.
  • The unverified form ITR-V will not contain any income, deduction and tax details. The unverified form will only contain basic information, E-filing Acknowledgement Number and Verification part.
  • The unverified acknowledgement is titled as ‘INDIAN INCOME TAX RETURN VERIFICATION FORM’ & final ITR-V is titled as ‘INDIAN INCOME TAX RETURN ACKNOWLEDGEMENT’.
  • Return filed in response to notice u/s. 139(9), 142(1), 148, 153A, and 153C must have DIN.
  • There is a separate disclosure for Bank accounts in case of Non-Residents who are claiming income tax refund and not having a bank account in India.

COVID related Changes:

  • The Government had extended the time limit for claiming tax deduction u/CH VIA to 31st July 2020, and the details of the same need to be reported in Schedule DI (details of Investment).
  • The time limit for investing the proceeds or capital gains in other eligible assets, so as to claim exemptions u/s 54/ 54B/ 54F/ 54EC, had been extended to 30th September 2020.
  • Penal interest u/s. 234A @ 1% p.m., where the payments were due between 20-03-20 to 29-06-20 and such amounts were paid on or before 30-06-20, had been reduced to 75%, vide ordinance dated 31-03-20.
  • Period of forceful stay in India, beginning from quarantine date or 22-03-20 in any other case up to 31-03-20, is to be excluded, for the purpose of determining residential status in India.[1]

Consequences of Late filing of Return of Income:

  • Late Fees u/s. 234F of INR. 5,000 up to 31.12.20 and INR. 10,000 up to 31.03.21. In case of total income up to 5 Lacs, the penalty is INR. 1,000.
  • Penal Interest u/s. 234A @ 1% per month
  • Reduced to 75%. vide Ordinance dated 31.03.20, where the payments were due between 20.03.20 to 29.06.20, and such amounts were paid on or before 30.06.20.
  • Vide CBDT Notification dt 24.06.2020, no interest u/s 234A if Self-Assessment tax liability is less than 1 Lac and the same has been paid before the original due date.
  • In case of a belated return, loss under any head of Income (except unabsorbed depreciation) cannot be carried forwarded.
  • Deduction claims u/s. 10A, 10B, 80-IA, 80-IB, etc would not be allowed.

Consequences of Late filing of Return of Income:

  • Late Fees u/s. 234F of INR. 5,000 up to 31.12.20 and INR. 10,000 up to 31.03.21. In case of total income up to 5 Lacs, the penalty is INR. 1,000.
  • Penal Interest u/s. 234A @ 1% per month
  • Reduced to 75%. vide Ordinance dated 31.03.20, where the payments were due between 20.03.20 to 29.06.20, and such amounts were paid on or before 30.06.20.
  • Vide CBDT Notification dt 24.06.2020, no interest u/s 234A if Self-Assessment tax liability is less than 1 Lac and the same has been paid before the original due date.
  • In case of a belated return, loss under any head of Income (except unabsorbed depreciation) cannot be carried forwarded.
  • Deduction claims u/s. 10A, 10B, 80-IA, 80-IB, etc would not be allowed.

Vide CBDT Notification dt 24.06.2020, no interest u/s 234A if Self-Assessment tax liability is less than 1 Lac and the same has been paid before the original due date.

  1. Section 5A: Apportionment of income between spouses governed by the Portuguese Civil Code.
  2.  115BBDA: Tax on dividend from companies exceeding Rs. 10 Lakhs; 115BBE: Tax on unexplained credits, investment, money, etc. u/s. 68 or 69 or 69A or 69B or 69C or 69D.
  3. Inserted in sec 139(1) by Act No. 23 of 2019, w.e.f. 1-4-2020:

Provided also that a person referred to in clause (b), who is not required to furnish a return under this sub-section, and who during the previous year:

  • has deposited an amount or aggregate of the amounts exceeding one crore rupees in one or more current accounts maintained with a banking company or a co-operative bank; or
  • has incurred expenditure of an amount or aggregate of the amounts exceeding two lakh rupees for himself or any other person for travel to a foreign country; or
  • has incurred expenditure of an amount or aggregate of the amounts exceeding one lakh rupees towards consumption of electricity; or
  • fulfils such other conditions as may be prescribed,

Shall furnish a return of his income on or before the due date in such form and verified in such manner and setting forth such other particulars, as may be prescribed.

4. Section 57: Deduction against income chargeable under the head “Income from other sources”.

5. Schedule DI: Investment eligible for deduction against income (Ch VIA deductions) to be bifurcated between paid in F.Y.19-20 and during the period 01-04-20 to 31-07-20.

6.High-value Transaction: Annual Cash deposit exceeding Rs. 1 crore or Foreign travel expenditure exceeding Rs. 2 Lakhs, Annual electricity expenditure exceeding Rs. 1 Lakh.
7.Schedule 112A: From the sale of equity share in a company or unit of equity- oriented fund or unit of a business trust on which STT is paid under Section 112A.

8. 115AD(1)(iii) proviso: for Non-Residents – from the sale of equity share in a company or unit of equity-oriented fund or unit of a business trust on which STT is paid under Section 112A.
9. Section 40(ba): any payment of interest, salary, bonus, commission or remuneration paid to a member in case of Association of Person (AOP) or Body of Individual (BOI).

10. Section 90 & 90A: Foreign tax credit in cases where there is a bilateral agreement; Section 91: Foreign tax credit in cases of no agreement between the countries.

[1] Circular No 11 of 2020 dated 08th May 2020.

References

Image Credits: Photo by Markus Winkler from Pexels

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A New Spin to Tagore’s Immortal Lines – “Where the Mind is Without Fear and the Head is Held High”

Two things happened in the past few days that got me thinking even more about something that has been playing on my mind for some time now. The first was a conversation I had with a friend, with whom I reconnected after a gap of several years. In the course of our conversation, he told me that his twenty five-year old son runs his own start-up that does cutting-edge work in the field of AI. I was somewhat surprised to hear this because when the children were in school, his wife would often complain about the boy’s poor academic performance. As if he had read my mind, my friend told me that he had given his son complete freedom to pursue his interests in life. He said, “The only thing I told him was to excel in whatever field he chose, and to be accountable for all his decisions in life”. Pretty good advice.

The second was that I read an article titled “Be humble but also be brave” by Mr. Ratan Tata. The article, which appeared in the Times of India on 27th December 2020, contains Mr. Tata’s views on what we as a nation need to do to improve our society. He writes about our collective responsibility towards the underprivileged sections of our society. He also writes about the importance of gender equality and equity in rewards given that women can (and will need to) play an important role in the nation’s growth. You may read the article here if you missed it earlier.

I agree with him on both counts. However, what resonated with me, even more, were his observations that India’s transformation will be powered by young people, and to enable this efficiently, we need to create a culture that is more supportive of innovation.

As I pondered the ways in which life has changed over the past nine months, it struck me that while technology has created “Digital” alternatives and workarounds, we as people have changed our mindsets too. This is in no small measure due to the pandemic. Being mistrustful of digital devices and ways of communication, many of us preferred to physically visit banks or shops. (Some will claim that they did so to maintain relationships- which is also a fair point). But while being forced to stay at home for several weeks, we discovered the freedom and convenience of banking and shopping from home. And now, this has become mainstream, thanks to the growing penetration of smartphones and hence, access to the internet.

I asked myself in what other areas do we need to change our mindsets and realized that change and shifts are inevitable in every walk of life. Here are five that immediately come to mind.

Parenting

At least in my generation (and earlier ones), the general paradigm was that “parents know what’s best for their children”. That may have been true during an era of relatively little change when things remained more or less the same for decades (say 1950-1990). But it is certainly not true anymore. So many career choices are coming up in the gig economy- but yet, many parents are even today fixated on Engineering, Medicine, MBA, Chartered Accountancy or Law. Maybe this explains why so many Indian executives are CEOs in global companies, but the number of innovations that have emerged from India and shaken up the world remains small. India has been an IT services powerhouse for more than two decades, but where are we with products? Zoho is perhaps one success, but there are not too many others I can think of. As parents, we need to be more encouraging of our children’s interests and allow them to pursue avenues that were once labelled as “offbeat”.

Education

Our education system has largely remained oriented towards rote learning and examinations. Marks and grades continue to be indicators of learning. But in a world where there are new problems crying out for new solutions, critical thinking skills become even more important. The new education policy alone is not adequate- all stakeholders including parents, teachers, society at large and students themselves need to change their mindsets. Risk-taking as a behavioural attribute has generally been suppressed in us right from a young age. “Don’t do this or you might hurt yourself” or “Don’t do that because it might damage the object” have been a part of our growing up years; we generously proffer the same advice to our children, and so the cycle continues.

This needs to change so that our youth are not afraid to take calculated risks. I am not advocating that they take wanton, senseless risks- but if they have a business idea, they should be encouraged to explore it and give it a shot- even when they are in say, middle school. They may fail, but their journey of pursuing their dreams will teach them so much more about life, success, failure, planning, preparation, resource management, handling people and so on than our institutions can. Just as only a tenth of an iceberg is visible above the water, 90% of failed start-up ventures remain invisible to the world. But the successful ones have ushered in so much transformation. Remember that only a few years ago, Uber, Zoom, Byju’s and Swiggy were all little more than ideas or early-stage start-ups.

Maybe the government needs to make it easier for new courses to be offered online, so that interested students, entrepreneurs, mid-career executives and professionals can expand their repository of skills- and in the process, also get awarded a certificate, diploma or even degree. The digital ecosystem is already a powerful catalyst for such a step. What is needed is a “nudge” in the form of reasonable regulatory unshackling to set up virtual universities, for example.

Innovation Ecosystem:

Depending on the idea and the problem it seeks to solve, the seed capital needed may vary from a few thousand to several lakhs. Not everyone will have access to the resources needed to set up a company and develop solution prototypes. But this does not mean these youngsters should not be given a fair opportunity. Some of the best ideas for solving our country’s problems come from young people.

The other day, I watched a video on the solar-powered ironing cart designed by Ms. Vinisha Umashankar, a fourteen year-old girl from Tamil Nadu. For a country like India, this is a great solution for three reasons. First, we have adequate sunlight throughout the year. Second, many people get their clothes ironed by people who use coal to heat their irons- and even this coal burning is a source of air pollution. Third, providing such services is a source of livelihood for many people in urban India. How she got thinking about this solution and how various entities got together to refine her prototype makes for interesting reading.

But not everyone will be as fortunate as young Vinisha, who seems to have had access to a supportive ecosystem through her school. To democratize access to resources, we need the government and the private sector to set aside more funds as “risk capital”. There are already several schemes at the central and state government levels, but awareness is limited. Teachers themselves do not have the necessary information to guide their students and help them apply for such funding. I am aware of executives who mentor and coach youngsters through NGOs and other social initiatives. I salute the people doing this and invite more people to volunteer.

For some years now, my colleagues and I have been assisting young entrepreneurs (on a pro bono basis) to give them advice and provide guidance on the legal aspects of setting up an entity in India, securing their IPR, etc. The Fox Mandal Foundation runs an early-stage incubation center in Bangalore. If you know of any start-ups looking for office space, legal assistance and mentorship, do ask them to contact me.

Regulatory Reforms

Entrepreneurs (and even established businesses, for that matter), spend inordinate amounts of time on seeking regulatory approvals and thereafter, on ongoing compliance. A certain amount of regulation is necessary- and in fact, desirable. But needless process delays (and instances of corruption) only cause frustration. For example, in today’s digital environment, it should be possible for company incorporation procedures to be completed within two business days. To be fair, the government has been taking steps to improve the “ease of doing business in India”. But more needs to be done- both by the central government and individual state governments.

Social Support

Not every startup idea will succeed. In fact, if history is anything to go by, 8 out of 10 will probably fail. This is where society at large has a role to play. Don’t chide or deride youngsters you know who have turned entrepreneurs and failed. If you have not done it yourself, you have no right to comment on others; at least they had the courage to take that risk. Perhaps this mindset should extend to parents preferring to give their children in marriage to those with “secure jobs”- which entrepreneurship is definitely not.

Unless we empower our youth to be bold and take calculated risks, we cannot expect India to transform at a pace that meets our aspirations. In this context, Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s famous lines, “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high…”, take on a whole new meaning. We need our youth to be able to boldly take calculated risks and if they fail, move on to the next idea or do something different, without feeling like misfits, failures or under-achievers.

I wish you a happy new year!

Unless we empower our youth to be bold and take calculated risks, we cannot expect India to transform at a pace that meets our aspirations. In this context, Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s famous lines, “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high…”, take on a whole new meaning. We need our youth to be able to boldly take calculated risks and if they fail, move on to the next idea or do something different, without feeling like misfits, failures or under-achievers.

Image Credits: Photo by Diana Parkhouse on Unsplash

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The Inevitability of “Digital” and What It Might Mean for Us

Here are five items of important news that hit the headlines in the past month:
  • Whatsapp’s decision to share certain types of user data with its parent (Facebook), and the consequent shift towards apps like Signal, Telegram and India’s home-grown “Arattai” from Zoho.
  • The Indian army displays of how a swarm of drones can be used to attack and neutralize enemies in future wars.
  • Tesla’s announcement on setting up an R&D Centre in Bangalore.
  • The launch of the Vaccine Credential Initiative brings together diverse technology and healthcare organizations such as Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce, Mayo Clinic, Cerner etc., to collaboratively develop a “trustworthy, traceable, verifiable, and universally recognized digital record of vaccination status.”
  • Amazon’s plans to enter India’s buzzing online education market with the launch of the “Amazon Academy”, which will reportedly provide curated learning content and assessment material to students preparing for competitive entrance exams like the IIT JEE.

What’s common to the above seemingly random list? “Digital” is one common theme that connects each of the above items of news. This is perhaps not surprising because, in the last few years, it has become quite clear that the shift to “Digital” is a trend that is both inevitable and largely irreversible.

In this context, it is fair to say that the economic growth of various countries, including India, depends on how quickly, efficiently and effectively they embrace “Digital”. At one level, this means companies imagining and developing the right solutions to help various industry sectors “go Digital”. At another level, it also means individual companies across industry sectors are adopting such solutions to make their operations more efficient, connect better with customers, improve quality of service etc.

But the “Digital” world will also bring other substantial changes. A critical aspect is that it will need all of us to reimagine the important concept of “trust”. We will need to rebuild it in new ways with various members of our respective ecosystems. This is not just about data privacy or security; it extends to the choice of raw materials, the process of manufacturing (e.g., Manufacturing 4.0), management of supply chains, how we communicate (e.g., 5G), how products are marketed and indeed, how they will be used (and not allowed to be misused). Employer-employee relationships too will need to evolve in the context of “Digital”. New skills will be needed. In short, every aspect of business (and indeed, life) will need to be reconfigured.

In a digital world, how services are delivered also needs to change because there is not just greater interdependency, but at least in the initial years, there is also a higher degree of “unknowability” about how advice in one area might impact other areas. In today’s world, accounting, consulting, legal advice, financial advice, IT services, HR services, Governance solutions etc., are all neatly siloed. But in the brave new world that lies ahead of us, that may well need to change. We may need “super advisors” who have the ability to coordinate multiple strands of expertise to ensure that clients get the best solutions to address their needs. In many cases, even the needs will need to be elicited through a process of brainstorming because what “digital” means to a company cannot be easily defined or benchmarked.

Under the influence of various geopolitical forces, changing demographics and the consequent mindset shifts, the next few years may also see a realignment of global organizations. As and when this happens, we can also expect to see other changes, and those might also impact how the world moves forward on the “Digital” highway.

If you are older than, say, 45 years of age, you’ve likely grown up and worked through relatively long periods of stability. But in recent years, technology-enabled innovation has led to large-scale disruptions. Add to that the changing demographics, and it is fair to say that the world is on a roller-coaster. Generational shifts bring with them new ways of thinking and working and new attitudes towards life, including changing notions of “success”, “risk”, “happiness”, and so on. In this dynamic environment, some of us can be at the forefront of defining and shaping the future of industries. The simple question is: how many of us are up to the challenge?

What’s common to the above seemingly random list? “Digital” is one common theme that connects each of the above items of news. This is perhaps not surprising because, in the last few years, it has become quite clear that the shift to “Digital” is a trend that is both inevitable and largely irreversible.

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Occupational Safety, Health And Working Conditions Code, 2020

The Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020 (“OSHWC Code”) which consolidates the various legislations pertaining to working conditions of various types of industries was passed by the Lok Sabha on 22nd September 2020, the Rajya Sabha on 23rd September 2020 and received Presidential Assent on 28th September 2020

The amalgamated and consolidated legislations are:

 

  1. The Factories Act, 1948
  2. The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970
  3. The Mines Act, 1952
  4. The Dock Workers (Safety, Health and Welfare) Act, 1986
  5. The Building & Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979
  6. The Plantations Labour Act, 1951
  7. The Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979
  8. The Working Journalist and other Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Service and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1955
  9. The Working Journalist (Fixation of rates of wages) Act, 1961
  10. The Cine Workers and Cinema Theatre Workers Act, 1961
  11. The Motor Transport Workers Act, 1961
  12. The Sales Promotion Employees (Conditions of Service) Act, 1976
  13. The Beedi and Cigar Workers (Conditions of Employment) Act, 1966

 

Salient Features of the OSHWC Code

 

This section points out some of the key provisions in the OSHWC Code with a focus on the aspects which are different from applicable law.

 

  1. OSHWC Code has introduced a single registration for all establishments with 10 or more workers. Given that the OSHWC Code applies to a variety of different industries and types of establishments, the applicability for various sections varies accordingly as enumerated in the next point.

 

  1. The following are the amendments to thresholds which determine the applicability of relevant provisions of the OSHWC Code:
  • Factories with power – 10 to 20 workers
  • Factories without power – 20 to 40 workers
  • Contract Labour Section – 20 to 50 workers
  • Creche facility – 30 to 50 workers
  • Welfare Officer – 500 to 250 workers
  • Canteen – 250 to 100 workers

 

  1. Women can now work between 7 pm and 6 am in various establishments provided consent is obtained and safety measures are in place. Further, where previously prohibited, women are now allowed to work in all establishments including ones which are involved in hazardous activities.

 

  1. It has been made mandatory for all workers to have written terms of employment issued in an Appointment Letter.

 

  1. Free health needs to be provided by the employer annually for all workers over an age specified.

 

  1. Inter-state migrant workers to be provided for by employer/contractor, including statutory benefits. Further employers also have to cover travel fares for such workers as an allowance annually.

 

  1. Constitution of National Occupational Safety and Health Advisory Board to oversee and regulate safety norms, including requiring participatory/representative committees to be created to evaluate safety norms.

 

  1. Working hours, leave, overtime, welfare provisions have been made largely uniform across most Codes which makes the provisions uniform across most establishments.

 

  1. An employer is required to maintain a register which includes most of the following information: work performed by the employees, number of hours of work that constitute normal working hours in a day, weekly scheduled rest day, wages paid and receipts provided thereof, leave, leave with wages, overtime work, attendance, and dangerous occurrences and employment of adolescents.

 

  1. Government to formulate schemes for third party audit by professional experts.

 

OSHWC Code Implications

 

The OSHWC Code has certainly simplified the regulatory process. However, most of the aspects specifically needing regulations have been delegated to the State Government or the Board, so it needs to be seen what further legal provisions will likely be introduced in the rules.

Image Credits: Photo by Christopher Burns on Unsplash

The OSHWC Code has certainly simplified the regulatory process. However, most of the aspects specifically needing regulations have been delegated to the State Government or the Board, so it needs to be seen what further legal provisions will likely be introduced in the rules.

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Highlights Of The Code On Social Security

The Code on Social Security, 2020 (“SS Code”) was passed by the Lok Sabha on 22nd September 2020, the Rajya Sabha on 23rd September 2020 and received Presidential Assent on 28th September 2020.

The SS Code consolidates the various employee welfare legislation such as:

 

  1. The Employees Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952 – this law provided for contributions by employer and employee towards post-retirement savings.

 

  1. The Employees State Insurance Act, 1948 – this law requires contributions from employers and employees towards insurance that covers medical, disability, and maternity.

 

  1. The Maternity Benefit Act,1961 – paid leave to employed women in the event of childbirth.

 

  1. The Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 – statutory payment for long-service by an employee on non-stigmatic separation from employment.

 

  1. The Building and Other Construction Workers Cess Act – a fund for providing benefits to construction workers and their dependents.

 

  1. The Employees Exchange (Compulsory Notification of Vacancies) Act, 1959 – requires notification of job vacancies.

 

  1. The Cine Workers Welfare Fund Act, 1981 – the welfare of certain cine workers.

 

  1. The Unorganized Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008 – welfare measure for the unorganized sector including self-employed, work from home, and daily wage workers.

 

  1. Employees Compensation Act, 1923 – payment of compensation of injuries causing disablement/death arising in the course of employment.

 

Salient Features of the SS Code

 

This section points out some of the key provisions in the SS Code with a focus on the aspects which are different from applicable law.

 

  1. Applicability and Beneficiaries – The section on Provident Fund (PF) is applicable to all establishments with 20 or more employees as opposed to certain scheduled establishments. Employee State Insurance (ESI), Gratuity, and Maternity Benefit are applicable to all establishments with 10 or more employees & establishments carrying on hazardous activities. Building or other construction work now additionally excludes works employing less than 10 workers or residential construction work of up to INR 50 lakhs. Social security is also intended to be extended to the unorganized sector, gig, and platform workers. Also allows for voluntary adoption of the provisions where establishments do not meet the thresholds mentioned for PF and ESI.

 

  1. Wages DefinitionWages, which is being made uniform now, include all remuneration except for certain specific allowances such as conveyance, HRA, overtime, commission, bonus, and the consistent social security contributions and gratuity with a caveat that the excluded components cannot exceed 50% of the total salary paid. Any exclusions in excess of 50% shall be treated as wages. This concise definition of wages now removes the ambiguity in the earlier definition, especially in PF, on what components are required for purpose of calculating contributions. Employers will find this particularly welcome, in view of last year’s Supreme Court judgment which increased the PF contribution drastically by including the most regularly paid allowances for calculation purposes.

 

  1. PF Contribution – The employer and employee contribution have been reduced from 12% to 10%, with options for different percentages to be notified by the Central Government as and when it deems fit.

 

  1. Gratuity – While gratuity is still payable to all employees who have completed at least 5 years of continuous service with the company, the SS Code also allows for payment of gratuity on a pro-rata basis for fixed-term employees. Further, the threshold years for working journalists have been reduced to 3 years. Gratuity payments could increase if the basic salary amount in salary structures is not 50% of the gross salary.

 

  1. Authorities under the SS Code – The authorities under the SS Code are: Board of Trustees of Employee Provident Fund, Employees’ State Insurance Corporation, National Social Security Board for Unorganised Workers, State Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Board, and State Building Workers Welfare Boards.

 

  1. Creche Facilities – SS Code clarifies that common creche facilities may be opted for by establishments having 50 or more employees.

 

  1. Unorganized Sector, Gig and Platform Workers – The SS Code requires the National and State Social Security Boards to specifically create schemes/funds for providing benefits (life and disability cover, health and maternity benefits, old age protection, education, and discretionary benefits) to workers in the unorganized sector (self-employed or home-based), gig workers (workers outside the traditional employer-employee relationship) and platform workers (who access organisations or individuals through an online platform and provide services or solve specific problems). They are required to register themselves with self-declaration and AADHAR.

 

  1. Aggregators – The concept of ‘Aggregator’ has been introduced and means a ‘digital intermediary or a marketplace for a buyer or user of a service to connect with the seller or the service provider’. Aggregators are intended to help fund schemes for the unorganized sector, gig, and platform workers with a 1-2% contribution of their annual turnover. Identified Aggregators in the SS Code are:
  • Ridesharing services
  • Food and grocery delivery services
  • Logistic services
  • E-marketplace (both marketplace and inventory model) for wholesale/ retail sale of goods and/or services (B2B/B2C)
  • Professional services provider
  • Healthcare
  • Travel and hospitality
  • Content and media services
  • Any other goods and services provider platform

 

  1. PF Appeals – The deposit for filing an appeal has been reduced from 75% to 25% of the ordered amount.

 

  1. Penalties – Stricter penalties have been imposed, especially for repeat offenders. However, an opportunity is provided for rectification of non-compliance prior to initiation of any proceedings.

 

SS Code Implications

 

With regards to the Rules and Schemes developed, specific implementation will have to wait. However, the SS Code does appear to be a sincere attempt towards broadening the net and covering a much larger section of the workforce by recognizing unconventional work models as well as formal ones. While there could be an increased financial burden on employers, there is also an easing with respect to compliance requirements.

Image Credits:  Photo by sol on Unsplash

With regards to the Rules and Schemes developed, specific implementation will have to wait. However, the SS Code does appear to be a sincere attempt towards broadening the net and covering a much larger section of the workforce by recognizing unconventional work models as well as formal ones.

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Consolidation of Labour Laws - Balancing ease of Business with Employee Right