With the Union Cabinet on Wednesday approving amendments to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, minister of state (independent charge), labour and employment, Bandaru Dattatreya stressed that NGOs and social activists have approved the provisions that would allow children less than 14 years of age to only help in family and home enterprises, after school hours. In an interview with Surabhi, he said Codes on industrial relations and wages will be finalised with tripartite consultations. Excerpts:
How will amendments to the Child Labour Act help as there are concerns that it allows young children to work in family enterprises?
A large number of NGOs and social activists against the exploitation of child labour are associated with these amendments and their consent was taken while finalising these.
In the present Bill, there is a complete prohibition on employment of children up to 14 years of age, except in entertainment and sporting activities. Children below this age have also been allowed to help parents in non-school hours in domestic or family enterprises due to problems of poverty in many households. Also, in many small businesses in the country, all family members including children provide a helping hand but only after school hours.
The Bill has also introduced a new category of adolescents, who are children between 14 to 18 years of age and prohibits them from working in hazardous industries. The penalties and imprisonment for defaulting employers has also increased.
Many of the recent initiatives by the government have been termed as anti-labour. What steps are being taken to promote industrial harmony?
We are working on many measures to help workers. One of the first initiatives by the government was the passage of the Apprentices (Amendment) Bill that will help train and skill the workforce, in turn increasing wages and productivity. We are also trying to increase social security coverage through amendments to the EPF Act, 1947 so that smaller units with 10 workers can get PF benefits. We are also trying to reach a consensus on the draft Small Factories Bill.
The proposed Wage Code Bill and the Industrial Relations Code are necessary as the existing laws are cumbersome. Codification, which is based on the recommendations of the Second National Labour Commission, will help in simplification and rationalisation of laws. These Codes are with tripartite committees to get their views.
The Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation has made a start to investing in equities. Will this be increased beyond 5 per cent?
Globally, many PF trusts invest in equity and their performance is encouraging. We will not risk the retirement savings, but we cannot forget the present environment of the economy. We have evolved a mechanism for phased investment in equities, after discussions with the Central Board of Trustees. By March 2016, 5 per cent of the investments are in equities. This is our first experiment. We will evaluate the results and see how this mechanism works out.
What is the ministry’s plan for the year?
Our immediate plans are to introduce in Parliament important labour laws including the Small Factories Bill and amendments to the Child Labour Act and EPF Act. We also plan to undertake regional review meetings involving state governments.