With the Covid-19 pandemic forcing changes in the way workplaces are structured, the Centre plans to bring new rules for the service sector to incorporate, among other things, flexibility of work timings and the option to work from home.
In a first, the Labour Ministry proposes to bring a model standing order — rules of conduct for workers employed in establishments — for the services sector.
Along with the existing weekly working-hours cap of 48 hours, the proposed order for the services sector is likely to provide for work flexibility and an explicit work-from-home provision for service sector companies.
“We will soon come out with the model standing order for public feedback. This time we are expanding it. We are coming out with a model standing order for the services sector also, which was not there earlier. Work flexibility and work from home will be incorporated in it. The 48-hour weekly working hours limit will remain, but there will be flexibility for whatever way you want to work,” Labour Secretary Apurva Chandra told The Indian Express.
EXPERTS SAID the model standing order may leave out a large number of establishments, given the high threshold for applicability of 300 workers, and that service sector establishments are mainly covered under the ambit of state-level shops and establishments legislation.
Experts said a model standing order is an overall guiding legal instrument, with specific details left to be worked out between employers and employees. It incorporates scope for ambiguity, as working conditions are dynamic – with workplaces choosing from a full work-from-home model and a hybrid of work-from-home and physical workspace models.
The Industrial Relations Code passed by Parliament in September had raised the threshold for requirement of a standing order to over 300 workers from 100 workers earlier. This implies industrial establishments with up to 300 workers are not required to furnish a standing order – something that has been criticised as giving space to companies to introduce arbitrary service conditions.
“While it is a good proposition to have separate standing orders for the services, manufacturing, and mining sectors, what is the practical utility of this when the law excludes thousands and lakhs of establishments,” labour economist and professor at XLRI Jamshedpur, K R Shyam Sundar, said.
“In the factories sector, they exclude 90 per cent of the working factories, according to the Annual Survey of Industries. For the services sector, there is not much data but if we go by the Economic Census, 95 per cent of the establishments don’t employ even more than 20 workers. Given the dynamism which is taking place in work arrangements due to Covid, I do not understand how a generic legal instrument of regulation like a model standing order could capture the manifold work arrangements that could be designed by establishments,” Dr Shyam Sundar said.
Also, experts said service sector establishments may not be fully covered under the regulations pertaining to the standing orders.
“The working hours given by the OSH (Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions) Code may not apply to most shops and establishments, which will be covered under The Shops and Establishments Act. So what is the relevance of the model standing order for the services sector when they apply only to 300 or more workers, and when most of the non-governmental services sector will be registered under The Shops and Establishments Act, which provides its own working hours and breaks?” Dr Shyam Sunder said.
It may find favour only in certain IT sector and knowledge sector establishments, and may not be applicable to other service sector establishments like restaurants, which is a purely space-based working arrangement, he added.