Labour reforms: Case for improving working conditions, all across

Thursday, 25 July 2019 0 comments

Abhik Ghosh

By Abhik Ghosh, 
Former IAS and ILO Official

After waiting in the wings for five years, major labour reforms have been brought back to the centre stage yet again.
            The recent Economic Survey and the Union Budget have both emphasised the urgency of labour reforms to spur industrialisation, achieve economies of scale, create decent and productive jobs, and promote the Make in India policy for rapid, sustainable and equitable economic growth. The decisive mandate in the recently concluded general election gives the government the unprecedented opportunity to translate its political will into purposeful action and quickly push through major labour reforms that remained pending in its first innings.
            The plan to simplify, rationalise and consolidate some 44 central labour laws into 4 omnibus labour codes was launched in 2014. Essentially, the plethora of central labour laws is being bunched together into Labour Codes on Wages; Occupational Safety & Health; Industrial Relations; and Social Security. Extensive consultations were held with the principal stakeholders - employers’ organizations, major trade unions and the government - to arrive at the widest possible consensus. It is a given that there are far too many labour laws and that their number needs to be reduced for ease of compliance and targeted impact. Many of the extant provisions are complicated and repetitive, their applicability thresholds vary under different laws and many terminological definitions are confusing. The need for simplification, rationalisation and consolidation of extant labour laws - with a few exceptions - has been largely supported by the tripartite constituency. This is how less will become more in the labour reforms architecture.
   
         The Prime Minister has stated that the government would take up “safe” legislative reforms as a start for maximum impact and leave the “controversial” ones for a later date. This applies to labour law reforms as well. As on date, the labour codes on wages and occupational safety & health have passed muster with the tripartite constituency and the Cabinet has also approved both of them. The Wage Code seeks to consolidate the Minimum Wages, Payment of Wages, Payment of Bonus and Equal Remuneration Acts. Similarly, the code on Occupational Safety & Health (OSH) combines 12 or 13 existing laws, including the Factories, Mines and Plantations Acts, the Contract Labour Act and many others dealing with workers’ welfare and decent working conditions. The licensing and inspection regimes are proposed to be eased and simplified under the new code. As most of the provisions of the Wage Code and OSH Code are progressive and salutary, these two Bills are not likely to encounter any significant resistance in their passage through the Parliament.
            Let us take a sneak peek into some of the new provisions. Universal application of the minimum wage law to all employment categories, instead of its selective application only to scheduled employments, would fulfil a long pending demand. Likewise, the concept of a national minimum wage, while allowing upward variations in different regions based on their level of economic development, would be a pragmatic solution to a vexed issue. The concept of a national floor level wage is also being introduced and no state government can fix minimum wages below that level. The liability for proof of non-payment or short payment of wages would be transferred from the employee to the employer and the limitation period for filing such claims enhanced from 6 months to 3 years. Insofar as payment of wages is concerned, new code would remove the existing wage ceiling of Rs. 24000 and cover all employees in all places of employment as against only six at present. In yet another progressive move, the new code would cover transgenders for purposes of equal remuneration. As regards bonus, there is no procedure for filing claims under the existing law and the affected worker has to approach the labour court or industrial tribunal for redress, which is dilatory and frustrating. The new code proposes to set up a Claims Authority that will decide all claims of non- payment or short payment of wages as well as bonus, obviating circuitous judicial processes.  
             Some principled objections have been raised by the Trade Unions against the inspection system proposed under the new OSH Code, but mainly it integrates the reform measures already being followed under the web based Shram Suvidha Portal. Employers have welcomed the changes as an antidote to the dreaded inspector raj. However, a balance between ease of compliance and effective enforcement must be struck lest the labour inspection protocol is rendered ineffective.        
            The labour code on Industrial Relations would subsume the Industrial Disputes, Trade Unions and Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Acts. As opposed to the earlier two codes, this one is considered controversial for several reasons. Despite extensive tripartite consultations, there is still a widespread perception, particularly among the trade union representatives, that their concerns have been overlooked.
            Most of the apprehensions hinge around the flexibility-security debate, focusing on Chapter VB of the Industrial Disputes Act. Ostensibly, the employers had agreed that factories, mines and plantations where 300 or more workers are employed would not require prior permission of the appropriate government for any layoff, retrenchment or closure. They had also apparently agreed to compensate such workers with 45 days’ wages for every completed year of service. The workers’ representatives insist that the existing threshold of establishments with 100 or more workers requiring ‘prior permission’ for layoff, retrenchment and closure should be retained. This debate has gone on for far too long and has stymied the labour reforms process. The UPA government could not resolve it in 10 years and the last NDA government also had to hold back its horses for fear of annoying the trade unions. It is now time to take a pragmatic approach and pursue what is doable in the larger interest.
            The Cabinet will have to take a call on whether to retain the existing threshold or make any modification. The ‘prior permission’ clause applies only to factories, mines and plantations. Most of the mines are now operated by public sector enterprises, hence obtaining prior permission from the government is not an issue. According to some estimates, almost 70 percent of all industries in the organized sector employ less than 40 regular workers. Industries employing between 100 - 300 regular workers would be miniscule compared to the total. Large industries have also found pragmatic solutions to workforce reduction through the voluntary retirement route. Seen from another angle - although precise data is not readily available - the central government has not declined any genuine application seeking ‘prior permission’, and so the debate remains largely academic. Many state governments like Rajasthan, Haryana, Gujarat, M.P, A.P., etc. have already raised the ‘prior permission’ threshold from 100 to 300, which may be the more pragmatic strategy to follow in our federal ecosystem. As far as compensation for layoff, retrenchment and closure is concerned, the new code would permit the appropriate government to notify the scale and quantum thereof on a case to case basis with a measure of flexibility.
            Some other controversial provisions of the new IR code concern the right to strike, deemed registration of trade unions, association of outsiders in executive bodies of trade unions, labour courts and industrial tribunals. Whereas under the existing law only public utility services are required to serve the mandatory two weeks’ strike notice, the new code would extend this requirement to all industrial establishments. It also seeks to prohibit strikes while conciliation proceedings are ongoing. The trade union representatives brand the proposals to curtail the right to strike as inimical to the fundamental right of workers. The Cabinet will have to take a balanced view and decide how reasonable restrictions on the right to strike may be imposed in the interest of production, productivity and exports without violating international treaty obligations with the ILO.
           
The proposal in the new code requiring all establishments employing 100 or more workers to set up works committees to settle in-house grievances before they escalate into disputes is a welcome move. The provision for deemed registration of trade unions, where registration applications have remained pending beyond 60 days, promotes freedom of association and is pro-worker. However, the prohibition of outsiders in the executive bodies of trade unions is seen as an attempt to weaken their organizational capacity and functional efficiency and perceived as anti-worker.
            Reform of section 9A of the Industrial Disputes Act permitting the management to make changes in the conditions of work      without the mandatory 21 days’ notice is a significant change that would promote flexibility, where the existing provision is stringent and prone to unnecessary litigation.
            Labour courts under the existing law would be eliminated and a two member tribunal - with one judicial and one administrative member - would decide labour cases. The controversial proposal in the earlier draft code for a tripartite Industrial Relations Board to hear and settle individual labour disputes has been dropped and the dispute resolution procedure further rationalised. Upon failure of conciliation, the disputing parties may now approach the tribunal directly without having to wait for a reference by the appropriate government.
            After the Cabinet’s approval, the labour code on IR would likely be introduced in the Parliament sometime in the latter half of 2020. By then the numbers in the Rajya Sabha would have turned favourable for the government. And so, the big bang reforms would have to wait for a little longer.               
            The labour code on social security is still work in progress as several issues need to be sorted out internally before it can be given any firm shape. Some 12 or 13 different legislations may be brought under one umbrella, the contentious ones being the Employees Provident Fund and Employees State Insurance Acts. The proposal to establish one Social Security Board to subsume the EPFO and ESIC along with all other labour welfare boards has not found favour with the stakeholders. The government has set up yet another committee to review the proposals and come up with fresh recommendations.
            While the waiting game continues, early reform of the codes on wages, occupational safety and health and other working conditions would at once satisfy the stakeholders and the investor community that the government means business and it is no longer business as usual. Restructuring the labour code on Industrial Relations in the next phase would remain a crucial challenge. 
(Editor's note: Media friends are welcome to use this piece with credit to PRapport)

Transform or Perish & What's The Big Idea - CHANAKYA Specials

Wednesday, 24 July 2019 0 comments


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CHANAKYA Specials - Piyush Pandey & Disruption

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Scribe who did Aadhar expose gets RedInk Award

Monday, 24 June 2019 0 comments


Rachna Khaira Bags Redink ‘Journalist-Of-The-Year’ Award For ‘Aadhar’ Expose.
For details, please check:
https://www.bizbuzzindia.com/news/details/72


'My Experiments with PR'

Sunday, 26 May 2019 0 comments

Young PR Professional Shubham  Saurav Singh, Asst Manager (PR), Power Finance Corporation made a presentation on Managing Effective PR highlighting the issues pertaining to Skillful Communication’ in the Company. The purpose was to understand the challenges faced by PR while performing its duties vis-a-vis the expectations of various departments that deal with PR Unit on almost daily basis.
Everyone has an idea of what Public Relations is all about whether from TV or movies or just seeing a journalist spinning a story on a Televised Press Conference. So what exactly is PR? Is PR Advertising? Is it a 9-5 job? Propaganda? Or is it something super glamorous?
The two letter word PR is grossly misunderstood across and is perhaps one of the professions with the widest variety of definitions. The purpose of this article is to sum up all the key learnings I have acquired from workshops/conclaves conducted by forums such as PRSI, PRCI and SCOPE in the recent past.
Shubham
I would like to begin with how The Public Relations Society of America defines Public Relations: “As a strategic communication process that build mutually beneficial relationships between an organisation and its publics”. Another way of putting it is “as a sustained planned, deliberate and professional management of the reputation of an organisation or an individual. In lay man terms of course, “PR is a two way communication process” where both the sender and receiver of the message are involved.
Background: We know that today youngsters are influencing product purchase as the media ecology is changing. Today there is Cross Media Ownership and New Media conglomerates have emerged. Indian entertainment corporations are funding Hollywood production. In today’s mesmerising world of Science and Technology, where change and speed are the buzzwords, People’s tastes and preferences have gone for a complete metamorphosis. E&Y for instance has a PetDay (one fine day all employees take their pets to offices and get them injections/vaccinations) so much so that an extra leave need not be taken. Similarly, companies such as Ericson, HSBC,and Accenture have Poll surveys, Flash mobs and what not. The idea is to say that the outlook of people in and around us are changing or probably have changed so much already. Media is shaping the perceptions and attitudes of people. Likewise, society too has its own share of influence/impact on the media. The media is in an area of Public Affairs, it is a definition of social reality. Media HAWA NAHI HAI. It is very much a part of the society; it is very much a part of the social intuition. Today, people are looking for good narratives/piecesand that’s why channels have a good story in theend. A House Journal should have futuristic thinking. Therefore, being just good in your field is notenough. You got to talk about it. And thus communication becomes critical.
What is the media matrix like? Understanding trends in Media is of paramount importance. There was only one Doodarshan once upon a time (which was literally very door from darshan) but look at the way the various types of media have emerged. There are videos, audios,bytes, recordings going viral. South West airlines don’t even spend a single penny on Advertising. On the contrary, there are brands such as Unilever and P&G (in the FMCG sector), ICICI, LIC, HDFC in the BFSI sector, Samsung, LG, Sony (in the Consumer goods sector), NIIT, Amity (in the Education sector) which spend on an average close to Rs30 lakhs per month on their advertising and soon (Brand Promotion on New Media in India, India Connected, Sage Publications 2019). And therefore, there is an understanding/inkling that the ROI from  your ad spend is somewhere somehow proportionatelycorrelated to your business  or rather say, your marketing budget is somewhere driving your sales, profits, inventory etc.
Good Media relations depend on your synergy within the organisation. PR cannot work in isolation. It definitely requires management support to function. PR is no substitute for bad work
But what are you saying is again another big question. For example; I show you one advertisement-: one person might just like it so much and the other person might just not like it at all. Creativity is actually very subjective you see and therefore it cannot be measured
Rather, PR practitioners should see themselves as Business Communicators or Communication strategists for that matter because when you do that, communication itself becomes a vertical. . Today there are so many loud noisesaround. Political Parties are using social media to leverage political gains. Brands and corporations are always on the lookout for saying something new and innovative. What is the voice being heard?  The Prime Minister of India has been able to garner the complete database of the country through a small missedcall. Communication schools have a class on Journo Tracking (where students are taught how to track media and learn the various styles of reporting):we know that the way a Times of India does a story is totallydifferent from the way a Business Standard or theHindu does it for instance.
The other day I was at the coffee house and my friends told me that they were doing a research study on Communication Audit and therefore I had to be there to give my inputs. Observe that one may not have even heard of it but is a new concept which aims at evaluating whether communication with audiences/ stakeholders is actually turning out to be valuable or not.
Brand Guru Ramesh Tahiliani of IIMC, Delhi talked of Points of Parity and Points of Differentiation in his class on Brand Identity. What is one unique thing that a brand is trying to sell about itself? You see something and it comes to your mind (Unaided Recall).Own a word: Consumers think in words. Luxury of a car and thrill of an SUV: Mahindra Scorpio. If Friday Dressing is Allen Solly, then Power dressing is VanHuesen. It is not uncommon to see that people today like to wear Casual Formals on Fridays to offices. Likewise, Bata is value for shoes. Maggi is two minutes and Zara and H&M are associated with Fast Fashion. Go and look at their collection. What I am trying to say is that PR practitioners need to constantly hone their skills, and be on their toes and look for what is actually happening in and around them. What are they communicating, how are brands saying that they stand for a cause or they support an idea? How does a company say that it cares for its people or it is championing the cause of Hockey sportspersons or it is standing by the victims affected by Kerala Floods or Orissa Cyclones?
PR Policy: At Power Finance Corporation, the PR policy is like our bible. Not many of them (organisations) have one. It is a set of policy guidelines (framework) which governs all the activities and works we undertake round the yearand the modalities attached with them such as advertisements, sponsorships, Annual Rate Negotiation with publications, Empanelment of agencies , Publication of Audited, Unaudited Financial Results, Chairman’s Speech, Annual Report, CSR film, Participation in Exhibitions, Ministry related works.
Everyone has the same story but who has a different idea? Survival of PR Industry Depends on Ideation. Innovation needs Communication (out of box thinking). That is – “One thing can be presented in many ways”.You might just like to recall NDTV’s Barkha Dutt’s on ground reporting during the Kargil War. She went into the bunkers and stayed with the soldiers, gave a feel of the “war like situation” or what our Indian soldiers were going through. Therefore, what stays with the viewers in the end also matters.
Change in trends: First, Growing importance of regional media. Secondly, the Concept of Marcomm has emerged (PR guys are working closely with marketing guys: it’s become all integrated communication). Third, Print is here to stay but TV will gradually wash way(advent of Netflix and Amazon Prime). Fourth, Sensationalisation has emerged. At a point it obscures so much, that you just want to switch off the TV. Then there is Fake News  and dip in honest reporting. Look at the language of the newspapers today:  they don’t even write correct English. Corporate Rivalry has emerged. There is a hierarchy within journalists too. Moreover, PR is not just media oriented. Pressure groups and activists have also emerged. Today more than 80% of the journalists get up in the morning and surf the net. Even before we shoot our press releases, we get to know that they have taken the bytes from our Facebook and Twitter handles. It’s a powerful thought. “Godi Media” has emerged (asking a set of readymade questions to get the desired answers). SCOPE conducted a training Program on “Skill Development for CEOs and Spokespersons in PSEs” – a unique initiative. In one of his sessions, Abhijeet Dutt said:“Never get lured to the notes, when facing media. Rehearse and Prepare before the media. Cameras never lie, your body language, your voice, your gestures, your postures, incapabilities, everything is visible to the camera. Rajiv Desai groomed Rajiv Gandhi out of his nervousness”. Have CEOs taken the concept of Brand Strategy Seriously? “A CEO should have sharp reflexes. CEOs have become media reticent, they don’t want to talk to the media”, says Dr.JaishreeJethwaney(owing to various reasons- one of them could be the varied and dicey nature of the media itself) but again the characteristic of the media is to question the most powerful. One cannot escape.
Burger King recently came up with a Boundary Pushing Ad campaign “Burn that Ad”: consumers can download the app and burn the ad of its rival/competitors in lieu of a free whooper. What are you trying to say? Is it even ethical marketing?
Challenges: Good Media relations depend on your synergy within the organisation. PR cannot work in isolation. It definitely requires management support to function. PR is no substitute for bad work (can’t do bad work and tell someone to do good PR about it) implying PR is about packaging of the good work done by the company but it does not imply fake  presentation or stating the wrong information.
It’s the quality and not the quantum that matters (PR unit issues Press Releases on several occasions and I create a media dossier of all the published clippings to be submitted to the top brass). Many a times, ideally the question they ask is “How many newspapers have covered it?” But don’t you think,it’s equally important to see the kind of story the journalist has tried to picture.
Understanding journalists’s needs is another important challenge. There was a Minister’s Press Conference in Shimla. And right from escorting the journalists to their stay put, we got the wifi, the rooms everything ready for them. After all, when you give someone your love and respect, you are bound to get the same in return.  However, Journalists are always in the hurry. They have to cover so much.  It is PR’s responsibility to assist them in filing their stories (not uncommon to see them doing this instantly on their mobile phones and laptops during a press conference). Also, know that all press releases don’t convert into stories. The story they file goes through the News Editor or the Bureau Chief and then it iscrucial to understandat the end of the day that different media houses have different polices.
Interdependence of media and Corporate Communication.We expect so much from the journalists. And what do they expect from us? Up to date information and facts, honest and accurate replies.
Opporunities: Develop your organisation as a beat (improving customer service , how to stay ahead in the market? think like a journalist or may be twice their speed). You can’t just split ink on somebody’s stature or play around with a company’s reputation. PR guys work so hard day in and day out building the same. Good reputation has got its own benefits too: good manpower, good inventory, good sales, word of mouth etc.
Interactive news rooms (there are many benefits of having a healthyrelationship with your media friends- be it facilityvisits, brand demos, third party endorsements etc.… today they give us editorial packages with ad bookings.
Maintain media archives (always keep a repository of stories both hard and soft). DMRC does it very wonderfully.
Through this presentation, we also want to make a point that in our workplaces if all units coordinate well in time , then PR can function more effectively. There have been times when we have to sit late because someone sends the Press Release or a tender Advertisement very late (like around 6 pm) and then expect it to appear in the print the next day. Remember: Press has its own deadline. Cultivating relationships with agencies and journalists is not an easy task. Ideally the format of a Press Release should be the “Inverted Style Pyramid”. They say that the press release should ideally be like a 30-40 seconder short story you can share with a friend. Remember the 5Ws and 1 H
Social media (New models for New Media) :The internet is a democratic platform and technology is the game changer. Social media is about humanising the story and not statistics.More than 1 billion pages are added on Facebookevery day. There is conflict of interest on Facebook and Twitter. Somebody is supporting one idea, the other person is not. Don’t forget how random people or in some cases aggrieved consumers might just tag us and bashtag brands (if they are not happy with something). At the same time, Accidental opinion makers such as brokers, analysts, lawyers and brandactivists have emerged. Organisations are commissioning expert agencies to track their image on the internet.
Branding is more powerful with employee advocacy.Our Employees are ambassadors of our brand PFC and everything that our business stands for. As members of the company, they are closely acquainted with the products or services that PFC offers, as well as being keenly aware of our customers’ needs. Since our employees are already familiar with our customers and target audience, it becomes crucial to elicit feedback from them. As ambassadors for our business, we need to train/encourage our employees to actively engage with PFC online, particularly on social media. If each member of staff is regularly engaging and sharing content from our branded social profiles, we will likely see engagement as a whole increases – that’s just how social algorithms work (advocacy adds credibility). This can be in the following ways:
·         Sharing or retweeting company posts
·         Liking or following each of the company social media accounts
·         Engaging with company content, whether it’s a like, a share, or a comment
·         Listing the company as their official employer on LinkedIn
·         Inviting others to like and follow your company pages
·         Soliciting recommendations or reviews, and providing one themselves
·         Generating e-mail sign-ups using Fb/Twitter/Instagram
Also, we feel that there’s room for new ideas in marketing/PR and each of our employees has a different specialism and different content ideas to pursue. Welcoming them on-board will not only contribute to a healthy working culture in PFC but a richer and more varied marketing strategy as a result. NTPC has an app by the name of Samvaad. Employees can download it and login through their phones to see latest communication updates. Remember, Good PR starts with Internal PR. Today, Google has prepared legal aspects. Thebottom line is: “Whatever medium you be using, one should know, where to stop!”
Cause driven communication:Corporate Social Responsibility is My Social Responsibility says M B Jayaram, meaning CSR is not just a corporate job alone. People are voicing their opinions about societal causes. Employees are so proactive at PFC. (They talk about planting trees, run for a cause marathon etc.) and therefore Media should spin positive stories and try to glorify less talked about things. Today, there are lots of start-ups, agriculturalstart-ups, apps coming in., The plight of the Indian farmers is known to all of us. Agriculture should be the biggest “make in India” component. (Shubham is Assistant Manager, PR, at Power Finance Corporation Limited, New Delhi. He is an economics graduate from SRCC and an IIMC alumnus)

WOTR-ing young minds - PRCI-Bizbuzz campaign #JalNahinKalNahin picking up

Tuesday, 21 May 2019 0 comments

Watershed Organisation Trust involves local people in sustainable water use


Pic caption: A spoonful of fun makes the water taste sweeter!

By Sekhar Seshan
 
Children's laughter and shouts of excitement ring out as a two girls play on a seesaw in the Government Primary School at Bagdunda village in Udaipur district, Rajasthan. There are two boys on a neighbouring seesaw, both pairs competing to see which can jump faster. 

A boy cups his hand to drink water at a tap nearby. Two girls wait for their turn. The water is pumped to the tap from a borewell by the up-and-down movement of the seesaws. A WOTR field worker thought out of the box to make the boring, tiring chore of using a hand-pump. Now, instead of just pumping up enough water to drink immediately, an overhead tank gets filled while the children are having fun. 

"They come even after school hours to play on the seesaws, making sure that the tank stays filled all the time," says Gyanprakash Berwal, who heads WOTR in Rajasthan. "They have also planted saplings. Each child waters and takes care of one. The plant is labelled with her or his name, increasing the sense of ownership and responsibility." 

#JalNahinKalNahin - A PRCI campaign

Sunday, 19 May 2019 0 comments


Mumbai and even the City of 21st Century Navi Mumbai face water crisis. Marathwada and Vidarbha farmers are already under draught. Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra have their own water woes.
Media reports say Dharmasthala temple will soon run out of water even for Abhishekam rituals. Netravati river is drying up. Cauvery may go dry in ten years.
Bihar, West Bengal, Assam have their own problems of either severe crisis or massive floods. Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh,
There is no city or State which does not face water problems.
Water management has been one of the worst treated subjects in the country.
We need to make a beginning. We need to think of conserving water. Rainwater harvesting has remained only on paper. Even the so-called STP water is drained out.
We are yet to evolve scientific ways of recycling water. Result: we still use precious drinking water for washing cars, bikes and auto-rickshaws and even floors and walls of our buildings.
In this backdrop, Public Relations Council of India (PRCI) has embarked on a communication drive titled: #JalNahinKalNahin.
Let’s all join hands and spread awareness about saving water, more than anything else.
We would like to focus on this all-important issue on this Environment Day.
We plan to bring out a special number of PRCI in-house magazine CHANAKYA focusing on Water and run series on www.bizbuzzindia.com
We request all of you to send in your contributions with your thoughts on water management by looking at these questions:
How grave is the situation as you perceive?
How we have failed collectively in tackling the water crisis?
What needs to be done?
Everyone says water has to be saved. What, according to you, can be practically by each one of us?
Your response can be in:
100 words or
600 words
depending on your time, inclination and interest.
Please also send royalty-free high –res pix along with your profile picture by May 25, 2019 to mailbnk@gmail.com
We will carry select reports in CHANAKYA special and on www.bizbuzzindia.com
Looking forward to kick-starting a great campaign.
Yours sincerely,
Editor





 
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