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Home Based Work-Online Work Environment And Labour Laws In India

The advent of digitalization has significantly widened the scope for work from home also the situation of absolute lockdown during COVID-19. In this pandemic, due to restricted options, the concept and need for Home-based work are observed. In both public and private sectors the Work from home gave the employees flexibility in maintaining their work and life balance. Many new challenges which were never seen before were caused due to this pandemic and accordingly, individuals and organizations adopted the changes continuously. In this article, I’m going to analyze the laws and environment in India for home-based work.

There are also many hurdles in this type of work because the employer has to share sensitive data with the employees who are working from home. Recently keeping the importance of the home-based work in mind the Union labour ministry also for the very first time incorporated the ‘work from home in draft model standing order as an option in the establishment. Several Organizations realized that the Work From Home can become potentially a permanent feature. What may be the benefits and hurdles for the employer and the environment for work from home will be reviewed.

Through this, We will try to understand the definition and criteria of home-based work and Indian laws given by the Ministry of Labour. Will also review, if any specific legislature is available that talks about home-based worker and their rights. For understanding in a better manner check the magnitude of workers working from home and the environment available for the working to be done in a manner the utility doesn’t decrease.

Overview
In this catastrophe of pandemic covid-19 we have seen the hastening of work in office is now rapidly transiting into work from home. The workers have to leave the office space and now working from their own houses or distant spaces. The question in the mind of many of the worker is that whether the home-based work/ remote work is supported by Indian Labour laws or not. Amidst various recommendations and initiative, no specific policy or law is brought for the home-based workers.

The present condition raises a question about the condition and availability of specific labour laws for the Home-Based Worker (hereunder referred to as ‘HBW’), which also embraces the informal workers and freelancers. Present Labour law is for the protection of wages and providing good working condition to the worker of the organized sector but no law is designed if the workplace is home.

With responsibilities and obligations, the health and safety of the workers shall also be taken Such steps with the proper framework which covers all workers is needed at the present condition when the uncertainty lies of when normal working days will be back. The work from home method does not decrease productivity and provides a better lifestyle to the worker. The method which is ultimately beneficial to both sides should be codified as soon as possible so that the Home Based Workers can have some rights and can approach the appropriate forum if their rights are breached.

Defining Scope
The Ministry of labour defined HBW under criteria the workers in the unorganized sector working at a piece rate employment or self-employed in their home itself without any social security and have low income. The worker who used to work from home mostly falls under the category of unpaid work because in major cases the payment of a Home-Based Worker is done according to unit or piece of production. They are said to be considered under the informal sector therefore the payment received by Home Based Worker, not from fixed wages.

Legislation of Bidi worker and Minimum wage act is only two legislations which recognizes home-based worker.[1]As of now, this arrangement is going well because the employer is getting their work done and employees are also getting extra time for adjusting their work and life balance, which they were incapable to do before when they have to travel for hours on a single day. Now they can use that time for their work and hobbies.

But the real question now is that will this arrangement can go for a long run without being any conflicts between the employer and employee and do we have laws for such arrangement governing them. In many countries around the world, specific laws have been enacted for supporting the idea of HBW. This is now known as a new normal and productive enough to fulfil the required result of the employer.

If there is no proper regulation for Home-Based Worker is provided by the government then in such case the worker will be left on the forgiveness of the employer. The established procedure will provide the employer with bargaining power and can ask for their rights from the employer, the absence of specific legislation will leave space for the employer to regulate the working arbitrarily.[2]

It is tough to bring the statistical data of HBW right now in India because there is no proper way to measure the same. As per the Rights of Home Based Workers National human rights commission New Delhi in our country, 23% of the person from the non-agricultural department are Home Based Worker and 67 per cent of the workers doing HBW in the non-agriculture sector are women.[3] In total 57% of Home-Based Worker are female.[4

 In November 2020 the government brought new regulations for bringing flexibility in the work of the companies who were promoting the policies relating to work from homework from anywhere the guidelines are brought to remove the unnecessary restrictions by bureaucrats in reducing the burden of workers.

Logical Conundrum
There are several countries where employers have the duty of care towards their worker irrespective of the place where they work. In our country there is a lack of legislation for such condition, the facilities are provided to employees by the employer at their workplace i.e. phone connectivity, high-speed internet, air conditioning, officers etc.

The Home-Based Worker has to bear the cost of all such facilities, the HBW is going to learn for a long period, therefore, a solution to this problem should be provided either the employer should provide such facilities or provide them with the cost for such facilities.

The employer has to send the confidential data out of the office to the employees. This exposes data to many risks, the employees might intentionally or unintentionally leak the data or the hackers might have excess to the sensitive data. The employers have the responsibility of safeguarding the sensitive data of the company.

The companies should internally frame policies for promoting a healthy work environment for employees. There are many such threats and problems which are being faced by the employer and worker for which there is a need for formulating legislation that addresses a solution to these problems.

Contemporary Picture
Standing order by the central government under authorization under section 29 of the Industrial Relation code, 2020 is issued for matters related to work from home. The attempt for the formalization of work from home is made by the government for the service sector but the manufacturing unit is still kept out from the concept.[5]

The condition of work is to be agreed upon between the employer and worker, it depends upon the employer to allow their work to work from home for a specific period agreed by the employer and worker. The government has issued the model standing order which gives the standard for the condition and conduct of work from home, for the organization with the capacity of more than 300 workers which is increased from 100 from last year.[6]

A worker can be suspended by the employer in case of any misconduct and the enquiry and investigation are to be completed within 90 days from the date of suspension. For the period of suspension, the employer is needed to pay the subsistence allowance to the worker, the condition is that during the suspension period the worker has not employed elsewhere. The standing order covers the categorization of worker, working hour/shift, attendance, procedures, rules and regulations of leave and holiday.[7]

Prevailing Challenges
At present most companies are altering the policies and guidelines, defining working hours for work from home and other regulations as per their convenience. Still, there are many areas where a clash between employer and employee may arise. There are no clear terms and conditions for leave during the period of HBW, for compensation in case of injury and other similar problems. The working timing is to be maintained for fulfilling the duties while maintaining the work-life balance.

The employer should not take unwarranted advantage of their position by reducing the salaries of Home-Based Worker. There should be proper salary for the work is to be given to the workers who are working from home, the work from home method should not result in cheap employment. The impact of work from home on the working environment and companies’ economic growth also be checked.

The efficiency of the worker should not be decreased while working from home, the proper rules are to be framed in such a way that the idea of work from home should not hamper the overall economy of the country. While tackling all the challenges the employer must also take care of the mental, physical health and well-being of the employee.

Conclusion
Due to the lack of specific labour laws for Home-Based Worker, it is tough to define the criteria under which Home Based Worker falls. The non-availability of basic criteria also creates a problem in fixing the wage for the worker working from home. The definition of a Home-Based worker is provided by the Ministry of labour in a broader sense to cover the worker of the unorganized sector also.

Work from home framework was proposed by New Delhi which was later opposed by the labour unions because the provisions give power to the employer to reduce the salaries. If that would have been allowed then labour markets might be distorted with the reduction of salaries of the worker.

The step was taken by the government with the introduction of model standing order which allows deciding mutually the working hour for HBW which is only allowed for the IT sector’s employee and the relaxation of code’s binding on the working hour is given. The work from home is going to be new normal in upcoming time, therefore, it is need of the present time to bring specific laws for the home-based workers.

End-Notes:
  1. Government Policies for Home-based Workers, Vol. 4, Issue No. 2, Labour File. http://www.labourfile.com/section-detail.php?aid=323#:~:text=Despite%20these%20recommendations%20and%20initiatives,offer%20protection%20to%20the%20workers.
  2. Ostfeld, Lynne R. “WORKING FROM HOME: WHY I WORK FROM HOME.” GPSolo, vol. 28, no. 7, 2011, pp. 12–13. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23630612. Accessed 5 Apr. 2021.
  3. Home Based Work in India, Labour Law. https://paycheck.in/labour-law-india/maternity-and-work/home-based-work-in-india#:~:text=There%20is%20no%20specific%20law,under%20the%20Trade%20Unions%20Act.
  4. Invisible but Vital to Value Chains of Production-Home Based Workers, Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organising.
  5. Section 29, Industrial Relation Code, 2020.
  6. Surya Sarathi Ray, New Work from home rule in 2021, Financial Express. https://www.financialexpress.com/industry/govt-proposal-to-formalise-wfh-facility-for-services-sector/2163381/
  7. Model Standing Order for Service Sector, Government of India, Ministry of Labour & Employment. https://labour.gov.in/whatsnew/draft-model-standing-order-service-sector

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