In fresh amendments to the Factories Act, 1948, the labour ministry has proposed to set up a health and occupational regulator for factories, reduction in the time required to set up such units, increased maternity leave for women, provisions to allow women to work at night as well as for employment of transgender workers.
Significantly, the amendments have retained the requirement of spittoons and drying and washing lines while proposing an Occupational Safety and Health Board of India to regulate safety and working conditions of factories as well as provide approval and licensing for factories.
“The regulator shall frame regulations on occupational safety, health, welfare and general working conditions of workers employed in factories. The government of India may assign such other additional functions and roles as may be warranted for the purpose of this Act,” said the amendments, adding that it would have a chairman and two members.
Soon after taking office, the NDA government had begun reviewing the Independence-era Factories Act, 1948 and had introduced the Factories (Amendment) Bill, 2014 in Parliament in August last year.
However, the Standing Committee on Labour in its report presented in December had suggested a rethink on many of the proposed amendments relating to a higher threshold for defining a factory, substitution of the term “hazardous process” with “hazardous substance” as well as many other provisions such as those relating to overtime and employment of women in night shifts.
The draft amendments have proposed that state governments can continue to appoint inspectors who must be a B.Tech or equivalent, and have a degree or diploma on industrial safety. Their duties would be regulated by the regulator.
The latest round of amendments are based on wider consultations and a review of many of the earlier proposals by the ministry. The ministry has now released the draft amendments for public comments.
However, the labour ministry has retained provisions to increase the threshold for defining a factory as one with 40 workers, from the current threshold of 10 workers for factories with power and 20 workers for factories without power.
The amendments also seek to redefine a factory as “any premises … whereon 40 or more workers are working, or were working on any day of the preceding twelve months, and in any part of which a manufacturing process is being carried on” as well as premises where the manufacturing process involves hazardous processes or hazardous substances or dangerous operations.
Meanwhile, cutting short the time for setting up a factory, the amendments have proposed that such units will be deemed approved in 15 days of receipt of the application if all certificates and NOCs have been provided. In a significant step, the amendments have also included a new clause for providing equal employment opportunities to transgender workers.
The amendments have also sought to increase the maternity leave of women workers to 16 weeks and has also allowed them to work in overnight shifts. In line with proposed amendments to the Child Labour Act, the amendments have also proposed to ban employment of adolescents in factories.