The central government recently passed four labour codes, one of which was the Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions, 2020 (“Code”). The Code seeks to subsume and replace 13 existing legislations, such as the Factories Act, 1948, Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979, Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970, and the Cine Workers and Cinema Theatre Workers Act, 1981. The 13 legislations pertain to the health and safety conditions of workers in specific sectors like mines, factories, docks, etc. The Code aims to govern safety standards, health, working conditions, and inspections.
The Code applies to all establishments employing 10 or more workers. However, for establishments of mines and docks, the Code will be applicable with even 1 worker, while factories are premises with 20 or more workers. The Code has laid out a comprehensive set of duties for the employer to ensure the safety of the workers such as:
To ensure the workplace is free from hazards which can cause injury or occupational disease to the employees;
To comply with the Code and any other directions prescribed by the government;
To provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risk to the health of the employees;
To dispose of hazardous and toxic waste;
To provide annual health examinations free of cost to classes of employees as determined by the government;
To ensure that no charge is levied on any employee for maintenance of safety and health at the workplace.
The Code also prescribes duties for employers with respect to factories, mines, dock work, building and other construction work or plantations. It mandates the provision of welfare facilities such as creches, canteens, separate living spaces, lunch-rooms and restrooms for male, female, and transgender people. The Code provides for the establishment of welfare officers which are to be appointed in every factory, mine or plantation where 250 or more workers are employed. In a welcome move by employers, the Code has proposed one registration for an establishment instead of multiple registrations. This will create a centralized database and promote ease of doing business. Employers have to register within 60 days of the Code’s commencement. The Code also prescribes specific welfare provisions for women. For instance, women can only be employed before 6 AM or beyond 7 PM provided their consent has been obtained. Adequate safeguards must be maintained in cases where their employment is deemed dangerous for their safety or health. The Code provides certain rights to the employees, such as:
To obtain information about the employee’s health and safety at work;
If dissatisfied with the standards of health and safety, to intimate the same to the employer or the inspector-cum-facilitator;
In cases of reasonable apprehension about a likelihood of imminent serious personal injury or death or imminent danger to health, bring the same to the notice of the employer or inspector-cum-facilitator;
Further, the Code has amended the definition of contract labour. It now includes inter-state migrant workers but excludes workers regularly employed by contractors, provided the employment is governed by mutually accepted standards of conditions of employment. A contractor is not permitted to engage any contract labour if it does not procure a license under and in accordance with the Code.
The Code provides for the establishment of a National Occupational Safety and Health Advisory Board (“Board“) by the Central Government,. The Board is empowered to advise the central government on standards, rules and regulations relating to the Code, issues of policy and implementation of provisions of the Code. The Code also provides for boards to be constituted at the State-level to ensure efficient adaptation of the Code’s provisions. The Code has sought to introduce, maintain and enhance the safety and health standards of employees across all sectors in the country.