Social security numbers for workers better than Aadhar: Parliamentary panel

Economics Times, July 20, 2020

The Centre has assured the parliamentary standing committee on Labour that any dilution in the Labour laws by state governments that goes against the proposed social security code will be quashed. The panel, which met for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, also discussed the plight of migrants and suggested that a social security number be allotted to labourers so that they get government benefits even outside their home state.

The Standing Committee on Labour, headed by BJD MP Bhartruhari Mahtab, discussed the changes in the Labour Laws by some states in the wake of the pandemic and the impact it will have on the workers. The dilution in the labour laws was done by more than a dozen states with the hope that this will help multinational companies located in China which wanted to move to other nations due to COVID-19.

Sources said while the committee had issued notices to 7-9 states on the tinkering with the Labour Laws but the union labour ministry informed the panel that 14-15 states had made these alterations. Of these, around five had made the changes before March-end, earlier than the pandemic outbreak.

Labour Secretary Heeralal Samariya and other officials assured the committee that no dilution in labour law by any state that goes against the Social Security Code Bill. Some members raised the issue of increasing the work hours from 8-12 by some state governments to which the Centre said this is illegal and will not be allowed, sources said. Similarly, other changes that encroach on the rights of the workers will be struck down.

Labour comes under the Concurrent List of the Constitution where the Centre can over-ride the powers of the state in case of a conflict.

The Social Security Code Bill, 2019, that was introduced by Labour Minister Santosh Gangwar in the Lok Sabha, is with the standing committee is likely to be passed in the monsoon session.

The Standing Committee also discussed the difficulties faced by the migrant labourers during the lockdown and the efficacy of the steps taken by the government.

Sources said the government plans to expand the definition of migrant labourers to include not just licensed contractors but also those employed directly in factories. The committee suggested that who are self-employed in other states should also be included.

The committee has suggested that instead of making Aadhar the basis for providing government benefits to migrants, they should be given a social security number which is a more effective way of covering them for insurance, health and other welfare programmes. Government agreed that this “portable” number would be better than using Aadhar alone.

The members also discussed the distribution of grains to the needy under the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana. Some members pointed out that most of the beneficiaries were local workers and not migrants as those incharge of distributing the grains (5 kg rice, one kg dal and so on) focused on appeasing the locals.

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