The employees' provident fund is a social security fund comprising contributions from employers and employees, which are paid to employees on their retirement. The entire process is administered by the Employees' Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO), which is a statutory body established by the Ministry of Labour and Employment. To keep up with digitisation, the EPFO recently updated the process under which subscribers can withdraw and transfer provident funds.
The Employees' State Insurance (ESI) (Central) Rules 1950 were recently amended to reduce the required rates of contribution to the statutory fund maintained by the ESI Corporation for the provision of sickness and health benefits. The aim of this change is to cast a wider net by expanding social security coverage to a larger part of the population. However, news reports indicate that – as is often the case – the change has come under criticism.
Non-compete restrictions are the tool most commonly used by employers to protect their proprietary interests following the end of an employment relationship, particularly in the case of C-suite employees. However, non-compete restrictions which apply beyond the term of an employment relationship are generally unenforceable in India. That said, this does not mean that employers have no recourse whatsoever.
The Supreme Court recently examined whether certain components of an employee's overall salary are subject to provident fund (PF) contributions. As the Supreme Court has clarified that special allowances paid to employees must be included in the calculation of PF contributions, employers should review and analyse their current salary structures to determine any increase in PF liabilities.
The Central Board of Trustees of the Employees' Provident Fund Organisation recently approved a proposal to permit provident fund members to withdraw 75% of their accumulations after a period of one month of continuous unemployment instead of two months. The proposal would come into effect when the Employees' Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act and the Employees' Provident Funds Scheme are amended.
In order to keep pace with rapid economic growth, the Specific Relief (Amendment) Bill 2017 proposes to introduce provisions to facilitate the enforcement of contracts. Among other things, the bill proposes to remove the courts' discretionary power to decree specific performance, permit substituted performance by a third party, set up special courts for dealing exclusively with suits relating to infrastructure claims and prevent the courts from granting injunctions in contracts relating to an infrastructure project.
The new Code on Wages 2017 was recently introduced in Lok Sabha and is currently pending approval. The code seeks to integrate, amend and simplify the four central labour laws in order to reduce the multiplicity of definitions given under various labour legislation and foster a conducive labour environment by facilitating ease of compliance, thereby promoting the establishment of more organisations and creating more employment opportunities.
The Supreme Court recently issued two judgments regarding consumer law. In the first, the Supreme Court held that the courts should take a pragmatic view of consumers' rights considering their relative disadvantage with regard to suppliers of goods or services. In the second, the court held that, in the context of a vehicle insurance policy, the mere failure of the vehicle owner to intimate the insurer immediately after the theft of the vehicle should not bar settlement of genuine claims.
In an important recent case regarding contract law, the Supreme Court held that the commercial courts should not seek to interpret the implied terms of a contract. In a second notable case, the court examined whether an increase in coal prices (due to a change in Indonesian law) could be cited as a force majeure event by certain power-generating companies that were sourcing coal from Indonesia. Finally, the court also recently issued an important decision in a suit for damages and wrongful termination.
The Reserve Bank of India and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology recently established a new regulatory framework for setting limits on and payments of merchant discount rates and encouraging digital payments. Rates will now be determined based not only on the basis of transaction value, but also on turnover. However, in its effort to curb transaction costs for merchants, the government risks imposing significant charges on other system participants.
The most important criminal law Supreme Court judgments in 2017 included a case which held that Section 45 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act 2002, on the grant of bail, violates the right to equality and right to life. Elsewhere, the court clarified the criteria for quashing criminal proceedings and issued certain guidelines in order to prevent the misuse of Section 498A of the Penal Code.
A division bench of the Supreme Court recently decided to examine the correctness of a judgment by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC), New Delhi. The NCDRC had held that, among other things, consumer disputes cannot be settled by arbitration. This decision begs the question whether the line of reasoning preferred by the NCDRC is likely to invite more critical scrutiny by the Supreme Court.
Throughout 2017, the Supreme Court issued judgments on public interest litigation cases. These include reviewing the way in which senior advocates are designated, determining whether to constitute a special investigation team and establishing fast-track courts for criminal cases.
In 2017 the Supreme Court delivered several significant judgments which have far-reaching importance in the field of constitutional law. In particular, in one case, the court set aside the practice of talaq-e-biddat, while in another it held that the right to privacy was an intrinsic part of the right to life and other freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution.
The Payment of Gratuity Act 1972 is a form of social security legislation which prescribes a scheme for the payment of gratuity. For the private sector, gratuity is capped at Rs1 million, whereas central government employees can receive gratuity of up to Rs2 million. There is a proposal to increase the cap for the private sector in order to align it with the central government. Although this is a step forward in ensuring better benefits to eligible employees, it will increase employers' financial burden.
The federal government recently enacted a new act in order to empower disabled individuals and ensure their inclusion in the education and employment spheres. Although the government is primarily responsible for ensuring that disabled individuals receive equal treatment under the act, private organisations have also been made accountable for various obligations.
The Reserve Bank of India recently directed several banks to start insolvency resolution proceedings against a list of identified companies, including Jaypee Infratech Limited, a leading real estate development company. The case has highlighted the need for the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code 2016 to recognise a wider class of creditors that can initiate an insolvency proceeding and participate meaningfully in such process. It has also emphasised the important role that financial creditors play.
The Karnataka High Court recently issued a judgment which dealt with the retrospective application of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act 2002. The court held that a person cannot be tried for an offence under the act for the period when the offence was not inserted in the schedule of offences under the act. This would deny the writ petitioner the protection offered by Article 20(1) of the Constitution.
With the growing landscape of global businesses, there is a constant need to deploy employees for international assignments not only for skill development, but also for the business needs of the organisation. In order to abate similar obligations in a host country, India has entered into social security agreements (SSAs) with many countries. SSAs offer various benefits, such as the totalisation of benefits and exemption from dual contributions of social security.
The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill 2016 was recently passed by the upper house of Parliament. Key changes include enhanced maternity leave, the introduction of maternity leave for adopting and commissioning mothers and new remote working provisions. The amendments are undoubtedly a positive step towards promoting diversity and the increased participation of women in the workforce in the manufacturing and service industries.