Are employers legally bound to protect employees interests?

By Bhuvana Anand
3 minute read ● July 13, 2020
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Are employers legally bound to protect employees interests?

Gone are the days of laissez faire (the policy of leaving things to take their own course, without Government interference). The theory of ‘hire and fire’ by the employers no longer holds good. The Constitution of India along with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Standards set forth by the International Labor Organization laid foundation to the evolution of Industrial Jurisprudence post-independence.

In order to protect the interests of employees, the principles of labor legislation in any country should be based on the principles of economic justice, social justice, social equity, health and safety and international uniformity. The laws reasonably classifies the workers and employees to strike the balance and enhances the benefits from time to time through various notifications and amendments keeping pace with changing trends.

In India, we have almost forty four (44) labor legislation covering up the aforesaid fundamental principles. Several judicial precedents added reformatory dimensions to the labor laws such as the ‘Vishaka Guidelines’ for prevention and prohibition of sexual harassment for women at workplace. The concept of workplace was expanded considering the recent work trends.

Recently, four Codes were tabled in the Parliament consolidating all the forty four labor legislation categorizing them under:

  • The Code of Wages, 2019 which is enacted and brought into force w.e.f. 2019 consolidates the provisions of Minimum Wages Act, Payment of Wages Act, Payment of Bonus Act and Equal Remuneration Act.

The other three Codes are yet to be passed and they are:

  • The Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code
  • The Code on Social Security
  • The Industrial Relations Code

Principally the objectives of all the labor laws are derived from the ‘Directive Principles of State Policy’ of Indian Constitution; though they are directive in nature and not a fundamental right, the States derive the basis from these policies. In the dynamism of law, the directive principles laid its roots strong and no longer subservient keeping in view the national economy and social justice.

The labor laws are beneficial in nature and courts are bound to interpret the statutes accordingly keeping the basic principles in view. The objectives are to harmoniously balance the employer - employee / workman relationship providing the equated rights and obligations to ensure the fiduciary relation doesn’t strike imbalance or cause injustice to either parties.

The economic justice is enshrined through the laws on minimum wages, bonus, payment of wages , equal remuneration to men and women, employment of disabled persons, apprentice employment etc.

The social justice is covered under the laws of prohibition of child or bonded labor, the Shops and Establishment Act prescribing the working hours, working days, resting intervals, holidays, leave rules etc., workplace safety against various professional hazards, hygiene, health, maternity benefits under the Factories Act, prevention and prohibition of sexual harassment to women at workplaces and so on.

The social security of employees are provided under the laws of provident fund, pension schemes, deposit linked schemes, employees insurances, gratuity, workmen compensations for any disability or death that occur to the workmen in the course of employment.

The industrial relations are covered under the Industrial Disputes Act, Trade Unions, Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, Contract Labor (Regulation and Abolition) Act etc. to address through appropriate adjudicatory mechanism the disputes arising between the employer and employee in employment terms, rules and regulations, illegal strikes, lockouts, layoffs, retrenchments, closures etc., facilitates provisions for collective bargaining, recognition of trade unions and regulates the terms of contractual employees. Several industry-wise legislation are enacted to protect the interests of workers employed in mines, mica and ores, plantations, dock workers, motor transport, factories, beedis and cigar Industries, cine industries, journalists, building and construction works etc.

The labor laws enshrines and mandates that an employer has statutory obligations to comply in protecting the interests of its employees. Non-compliance to the statutory compliance of employment laws attracts liability on the employer under the respective penal provisions prescribed.

Owing to the unforeseen outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, the Central and State Governments in India have addressed several employment laws related issues considering the practical difficulties in keeping pace with statutory compliance, has extended the time frame for certain statutory filing, remittance, extended the duration of licenses, enabled online compliance process, advised the employers for prompt payment of wages, not to terminate the workers during the lockdown phase, reduction in contribution of EPF, special leave norms for affected employees, issued advisories and guidelines on preventive measures to be undertaken at workplace for the health and safety of employees etc.

The employment laws are beneficial keeping the welfare of employees, in parallel equate the situation of employer as well to sustain in the industry to run its business to provide employment. Hence the interpretations of the statutes by the Courts and Tribunals have always been with harmonious construction of these laws.

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