Priyasha Sen Gupta, Flywork.io Team, Flywork.io.
The term ‘Labour’ falls underneath the Concurrent List of the Indian Constitution. The Code on Social Security, 2020 arose from the recommendations of the 2nd National Commission on labor, which stated in its report that the existing labor laws must be amalgamated based on the subject matter. The Code came into effect in December 2019, while the Parliamentary Standing Committee submitted its report on July 31, 2020, and subsequently proposed a new draft law, the Code on Social Security 2020, which aims to review and integrate the Social Security Law in order to extend social security to all employees and workers, be it organized, unorganized sectors or any other sectors. Another major objective of the Code is to promote technology to ensure compliance and enforcement of its regulations are easily achieved.
Currently, unorganized workers are not covered by the Employee Provident Fund and Employees' State Insurance. According to the Social Security Code, 2020, the Central and State Government will issue the special schemes to ensure that the gig workers and others in the non-organized sectors have tangible social security and benefits in the form of pensions, benefits for accidents at work, funeral allowances, etc.
Amalgamation and Improvement of Various Laws regarding Gratuity
One of the nine laws that the Code subsumes is the Payment of Gratuity Act, which is a major retirement benefit for employees in India and applies to all organizations with more than ten employees (including unorganized workers) (i.e., MNC, schools, and other companies) because employees sacrifice the prime moments of their lives for the development, prosperity, and betterment of their employers, an employer pays his employee gratuity as a graciousness or gift. Gratuity is a statutory obligation of the employer to promptly tip their employees when they are due. Previously, gratuity was applicable only to employees who had worked in the company for five consecutive years, based on their 15-day salary for a full year. In the event of death, disability, etc., it can deviate from the five-year rule.
The mandatory minimum five-year gratuity was abolished in the Bill of the Social Security Code, but different threshold structures were introduced for various categories of employees. The prerequisite for this is that the regular and permanent employees must have worked for at least five years to be eligible. Although no such restriction applies to employees with fixed-term contracts, the employer pays gratuity on a pro-rata basis i.e., it is linked to their tenure of the employment. If an employer fails to pay any amount of gratuity to which an employee is entitled, he shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with a fine which may extend to Rupees fifty thousand or with both.
This move is in sync with the changing dynamics of the Indian labor force. Since the duration of service has generally been reduced, most workers are now employed on a contractual basis. Further, it additionally allays the concern raised by trade unions, that certain employers retrenched employees before the completion of 5 years, solely to avoid making gratuity payment.
Under the existing Payment of Gratuity Act, wages include the basic salary and dearness allowance and exclude all other allowance. However, under the Social Security Code, a new concept of deemed wages has been introduced, which means that if an employee receives more than 50% of the total remuneration in the form of allowances and other amounts not included within the definition of wages, then the excess amount would be considered as wages for the purposes of contributions towards Employee Provident Fund. The prospect of social security would, as an immediate consequence, increase the financial burden on employers and also reduce workers' cash. However, this could be mitigated if the Central Government stipulates a lower contribution rate for employees within the framework of the provisions of the Social Security Code.
Gratuity is exempt from taxation, as long as every full year of service does not exceed 15 days salary, calculated based on the last salary received (up to Rs.2 million). It should be noted that employers can pay additional gratuity to employees, which is known as ex-gratia and is a voluntary contribution. Ex-gratia is subject to tax.
Overall, the enactment of the Code on Social Security, 2020 is a welcome step by the Labour Ministry, which has made it easier to understand the scope and the ambit of the social security laws by consolidating the preexisting laws. The Code also defined various terms such as gig workers, unorganized workers which were not previously defined. This will help increase employment opportunities by engaging workers on a temporary basis and also make organizations responsible for the social security of these segments of workers, which will help combat exploitation while improving their overall compensation.