Labour code on safety & health: PMO wants free health check-up plan dropped

Surya Sarathi Ray
health, health sector

The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) is learnt to have asked the labour ministry to drop a plan to make employers offer free-of-cost health check-up for employees on an annual basis. This provision is, therefore, likely to be dropped from the labour code on occupational safety, health and working conditions (OSHWC), the draft of which will soon be discussed in the Cabinet and introduced in Parliament.

Initially introduced in the Lok Sabha on July 23, 2019, the OSHWC code was referred to the standing committee on labour. The committee submitted its report with certain recommendations to the House on February 11, 2020.

Labour and employment minister Santosh Kumar Gangwar had earlier told FE that the Code would be reintroduced in Parliament for passage in the ongoing session, soon after the Cabinet approval.

Widening the coverage manifold, the OSHWC code was proposed to be made mandatory for every employer having 10 or more employees to provide "such annual health examination or test free of costs to such employees of such age or such class of employees or establishments or such class of establishments, as may be prescribed by the appropriate government". The aim was to ensure enhanced coverage and increased productivity.

Sources said the PMO is of the view that the mandatory health check-up of all the employees might make it an expensive proposition for employers, and thus not desirable-perhaps keeping in mind the present employment scenario. Instead, healthcare facilities available with the Employees' State Insurance Corporations (ESIC) could be tapped for the same.

An employer is already paying 3.25% of an employee’s monthly wage into ESIC; while an employee contributes 0.75% of her wages for availing of a range of benefits including reasonable medical care and cash benefits in times of need such as employment injury, sickness, death, etc. The ESI Act applies to premises where 10 or more persons are employed. Employees drawing wages up to Rs 21,000 a month are entitled to the health insurance cover and other benefits under the ESI Act.

The proposed OSHWC code will also make it a must for every employer to ensure that workplace is free from hazards which cause or are likely to cause injury or occupational disease to employees. It also makes them comply with the occupational safety and health standards made under the code. Under the code, an employer has to issue a letter of appointment to every employee on his/her appointment in the establishment.

The code that proposes to allow women to work in the night shift, seeks to amalgamate extant 13 enactments relating to factories, building and construction workers, contract labour and working journalists, among others.

At present, different applicability thresholds exist in different Acts for welfare provisions like creche, canteen, first-aid, etc. The proposed code has envisaged a uniform threshold for welfare provisions for all establishments as far as feasible. For canteen, the existing provision is to have 100-250 employees. It will be revised to 100 employees in the proposed OSH code. A 50-employee organisation should have a creche facility.

In its report, the standing committee had pointed out that concerns were raised from many quarters for not bringing offices of the central and state governments under the purview of the code. As the committee sought clarifications, the ministry of labour justified the move, saying, "The OSH Code cannot be applied on central/state government as their hours of work, leave, welfare facilities, duties of employer, etc are governed by appropriate government rules."

However, contract workers engaged in the government offices would be covered under the Code. The standing committee has asked the labour ministry to clarify the definition of ‘contract labour’ under the Code and improve it further so as to cover all types of contract workers.