The re-skilling fund, introduced through the Industrial Relations (IR) Code Bill, 2020, with an aim to train the retrenched workers, may come with controversial provisions for the beneficiaries, including requiring them to produce a proof of conformity to the government, a media report on Monday has hinted.
A retrenched worker, who takes cash benefits from the new fund, may have to use it to get himself/herself trained within a deadline, failing which a refund can be claimed along with an interest on the sum transferred to him/her, Business Standard quoted a senior government official as saying.
The Bill has a provision for setting up a “worker re-skilling fund”, which will require the employer of an industrial establishment to contribute an amount equal to 15 days of last drawn wages of a worker to the fund “immediately before” his/her retrenchment. The amount will be credited to the bank account of the worker within 45 days of such retrenchment by the appropriate government – central or state.
The amount will be in addition to the compensation for retrenchment – 15 days average pay for every completed year of continuous service –a worker is entitled to.
The Centre is currently mulling over the said proposal while labour experts find the move to be making a “mockery” of the purpose behind funding the reskilling initiatives.
“Instead of treating the fund as some sort of a social security – provided to those who just lost their jobs – the Centre is contemplating a proposal that may further lead to creation of a burden for the workers,” Saurabh Bhattacherjee, a labour law expert, told Newsclick, while reacting to the news report.
It is a “cruel farce” on the part of the government to demand a proof of reskilling from the hard-pressed worker, said Bhattacherjee, who teaches at the National University of Juridical Sciences in Kolkata. He suggested that any provision to penalise the workers for not providing a proof may also eventually discourage him/her to use the fund.
Bhattacherjee also pointed out the issue with the “vagueness” of the whole fund as nothing much was mentioned in the bill text, which was presented along with two other labour code bills in the recently concluded Parliament session.
In total, there are four codes; the one regulating wages and bonus payments was passed last year. The Centre is aiming to implement all of them at once by December this year.
The “appropriate Government” shall set up the fund by notification, says the IR code that has now been notified after securing the President’s assent in September. Labour falls under the concurrent list of the Constitution, allowing both the central and state governments to form legislations on it.
The essential features of the re-skilling fund were not specified in the IR code and have been delegated to be prescribed by the government through Rules, Bhattacherjee noted. “This amounts to greater involvement of the executive in the law making processes. It leads to bypassing democratic debates on such features – introduced in the law through Rules,” he said.
M R Madhavan, president and co-founder of PRS Legislative Research, an institution that focuses on the legislative processes in the country, has also opined over the omission of key details of provisions from the bills, terming it as “a shift in approach.”
Moreover, there is less transparency in the consultation process, which involves inviting public comments within a fixed period of time. The consultation takes place before the framing of the Rules of the law, said Bhattacherjee. “This may be an experience even with the re-skilling fund, as both the Centre and states are given power to form their own rules,” he said.
Amarjeet Kaur, general secretary, All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), condemned the re-skilling fund as an extension of the Centre’s “commercial approach” towards skilling the country’s labour force.
“We already know how the many skilling schemes are creating nothing but cheap labour for industries in the name of training,” she said, adding, “do they get any jobs after that? Not really. Because the government continues to harp on ‘employability’ of the workforce while not creating any employment for them.”
Asked about mandating the workers to get proof of re-skilling, Kaur said that the most appropriate approach would be to assess how many of those workers actually got jobs after the training.