Based on consultation with women’s rights activists and feminist economists, an Oxfam India report states that the Code on Wages Bill is patriarchal, discriminatory, and exclusionary towards women workers.
The report was produced after the consultation organised in August 2020.
The Code on Wages Bill – one of the four codes in which 44 labour laws have been codified – was passed by Parliament in 2019. On September 23, Parliament passed three bills that completed the government’s codification into the remaining three codes.
The Industrial Relations Code, the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, and the Social Security Code, 2020 were passed in the Rajya Sabha after less than two hours of discussions.
While the Labour and Employment Minister, Santosh Kumar Gangwar said that the changes in the labour laws covered 50 crore workers in the organised and unorganised sectors, the Oxfam report suggests that the Code on Wages Bill, in particular, excludes several facets that make women workers more vulnerable to exploitation.
Two important Acts – Minimum Wages Act and Equal Remuneration Act have been repealed on the one hand, and their pro-women provisions are not incorporated into the current wage code on the other hand.
The Code on Wages Bill does not include women and trans people in the same capacity as men
The Oxfam report delves deeper into the Code on Wages Bill.
To begin with, the Central Advisory Board and other committees do not have a gender specialist to bring out the nuances of the working lives of women and transgender persons, which explains the lack of nuance in the draft bill itself.
The language used in the draft is exclusionary of women.
The draft of the Bill contains the pronoun ‘his’ throughout, neglecting women’s work explicitly. Jobs such as boat-man, calf-man, etc. are used, even though women perform those duties as well.
Transgender persons are also excluded in the context of their identities – there is no place in the wage slip or in form VI to write the sex/gender of the person.
Women are seen as substitute earners in the family – there is no mention of female-headed households in the assumed family structure, for one.
What’s interesting is that workers such as ASHA and Anganwadi workers – all of whom are women – do not come under the consideration of floor or wage earners because these posts are considered voluntary.
This delegitimizes women’s work and puts it in the category of unpaid care work, which is already gendered in nature.
The Bill denies women the status of a ‘worker’ due to its gender-blindness
The draft is inconsiderate of people working in the informal sector, which includes a large percentage of women workers.
Many women work as domestic workers, or are engaged with self-help groups (SHGs), home-based work and scheme-based work. The workplace is defined in a standard industry manner, and the home itself does not come under its ambit. Thus, these women – about 90% of them – are denied the ‘worker’ status.
Conditions of work are not defined either, which leaves these women vulnerable to exploitation and discrimination. What strengthens the gender-blindness of the draft is that none of the work done by women is mentioned in the 600+ skills listed under the rules.
Some other critiques of the draft are:
- The definition of ‘highly skilled’ workers is those who have intensive technical or professional training or practical occupational experience for a considerable period. This definition ignores the fact that a large majority of women who do not have the opportunities to become even semi-skilled or skilled workers, let alone highly skilled.
- The concept of ‘family’ is flawed when calculating wages. It is considered to entail a spouse and two children, but it does not account for families with elderly folks or disabled dependents. It is also discriminatory towards families that have more than two children.
- The calculation of minimum wages is discriminatory as well. The draft calculates 26 working days with 4 days of rest, which is unpaid. The provision of 6 continuous working days before rest day also does not work, considering that many women – agricultural workers and piece-rate workers – do not get work continuously.
- There is no clarity on the wages of women workers in agriculture and piece-rate workers.
- 70% of urban women employed in regular jobs do not have contractual agreements, which the draft makes mandatory under its rules. This implies that the new developments in the Minimum Wages Act and Equal Remuneration Act will not apply to these women.
What does this mean for women?
The Code on Wages Bill does not consider women’s work essential in many ways.
This only reinforces patriarchal structures and does not allow women to break out of them and earn well or independently. Women’s work is still seen as supplementary, with most of their paid work assumed to be care work.
These codified labour laws are largely exclusionary of women. The Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code (OSHWCC Bill), for instance, allows women in all establishments unlike the 2019 Bill. But the new legislation does not allow for women to be employed within 6 weeks of delivery, miscarriage, or medical termination of pregnancy. Along similar lines, the maternity benefit can only be claimed if the worker puts in a minimum of 80 days of employment preceding her delivery.
The Oxfam report suggests that a more nuanced draft can only be made when there is an adequate representation of feminist activists, economists, and ground-workers in decision-making bodies.
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