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11 Dec 2016

Cashless prod on workers - Centre issues advisory

Basant Mohanty and Anita Joshua, TT, New Delhi, Dec. 10: The Centre is prodding employers to get all their workers to open bank accounts to enable across-the-board cashless wage payments, plugging it as the panacea for salary hold-ups amid a demonetisation-driven cash crisis.
Ironically, the timing and pace at which the long-pending demand from trade unions is being fast-tracked has raised questions about the motive and the possible hassles, much like the implementation of the note ban itself.
A.K. Padmanabhan, vice-president of CPM labour arm Citu, confirmed that trade unions had for years been demanding wage payment to contract and casual workers through bank accounts.
But he said the government's sudden rush for its implementation - an initial seven-day deadline of December 2 has been extended -- could delay wage payments further.
He feared that with the banks stretched by demonetisation woes and most workers in the unorganised sector lacking the necessary documents, the opening of the accounts would be stuck and some employers might exploit it to hold back wages.
"Many workers don't even have identification papers or an Aadhaar card. How can they get all the documentation in such short notice?" Padmanabhan said.
"We want this done but the government seems to be providing an escape route to employers to deny people their hard-earned wages."
Labour ministry officials dismissed the fears, saying the government had issued only an advisory. The advisory route seems to have been adopted to avoid violating the Payment of Wages Act, 1936.
It says: "All wages shall be paid in current coin or currency notes or in both (provided that the employer may, after obtaining written authorisation of the employed person, pay him the wages either by cheque or by crediting the wages in his bank account)."
An official argued the advisory was not against the law but added that the government planned to amend the law.
"Since the workers are accepting and not protesting the opening of bank accounts, it's implied they have given authorisation for wage payment through bank accounts," he said.
"When a worker gives his bank account number to his employer, it means he has given consent for payment through the account."
An employer said he was running round in circles. "Most of the workers don't have the documents --- how are we to comply? And if we don't, the government may act against us."
Officials couldn't say how many workers lacked bank accounts or had opened one since November 25. Labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya had said last week that 387,037 accounts had been opened in the first four days of the drive. This is over and above the 25.68 crore Jan Dhan accounts opened in recent years.
An official said a camp would be organised in the tea gardens of north Bengal on Tea Day, December 15.
Baij Nath Rai, president of the Sangh-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, welcomed the government's move as a shield against employers denying workers the minimum wage.
The government had unleashed the drive on November 25 with a flood of letters to the states, sending armies of local body and bank officials scurrying to workplaces to hold bank account-opening camps.
Chief labour commissioner A.K. Nayak wrote on Facebook on Wednesday that over 6,200 camps had been organised in Bengal and 132,639 accounts opened till December 2.
Nayak had on November 25 written to the deputy chief labour commissioners to ask major employers to get bank accounts opened for all their employees who didn't have one.
"Further, all principal employers and contractors should be advised to ensure payment of wages to all employees, including contract workers, only through bank accounts," the letter said.
The Union labour secretary sent similar letters to all the states' chief secretaries besides the Employees' Provident Fund Organisation and the Employees' State Insurance Corporation and their subordinate offices.
"It's being done in the interest of the workers. Once they open bank accounts, the employers cannot delay wage payment," Delhi regional labour commissioner Onkar Sharma said.
"There will be no pain for the worker. Government officials and bank personnel are going to their doorsteps to open the accounts."

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