The amendments made in 2014 to the Apprentices Act, 1961 were meant to herald more opportunities for skilled labour. However, those who have benefitted somewhat from the amendments claim that there are not enough job opportunities for them even now, though they are skilled workers.

Earlier this year, Mohammad Ameeque, a resident of Fategarh, Uttar Pradesh, had filed an RTI with the Ministry of Railways to enquire about vacancies for apprentices, but was disappointed with the reply. Ameeque said, “The amendments made in 2014 say that employers should make their own policies for recruitment of apprentices as per the Act and include a ‘recommendation’ that 50% of the vacancies should be reserved to hire apprentices. But the Ministry of Railways didn’t make the policy right away and when they did make the policy, they slashed the reservation for apprentices to 20%. The recommendations also say that priority in hiring apprentices should be given to senior apprentices who have finished their courses earlier. People who have had their apprentice training before the amendments were spelt out are likely to lose out in competition vis-à-vis the new workers trained in latest technology, but who are not as experienced.” Ameeque finished his training from the Industrial Training Institute (ITI) in air conditioning in 2014.

The Apprentices Act, 1961 didn’t guarantee employment to apprentices and only focused on how people can become skilled labour. The amendments in 2014 were based on the recommendations that offered solutions to ensure that the maximum number of apprentices get employment. However, it was concluded by the Inter Ministerial Group (IMG) and Central Apprenticeship Council (CAC) that a single recruitment policy cannot be applied to various employers; therefore, employers were directed to make their own policies keeping in mind their industry requirements.

Speaking about the Ministry of Railways’ cut to 20% reservations for apprentices in jobs, Shiv Gopal Mishra, general secretary, All India Railway Federation (AIRF), said, “It won’t be entirely fair to say that there is a scarcity of jobs. If there are 20,000 vacancies in the Railways, 20% of it means that the ministry will recruit 4,000 apprentices, which is not a bad number. But recruitment of apprentices is still a challenge because of the unnecessarily lengthy procedure. This affects the recruitment process adversely since only a handful of people are able to clear the different level of screenings required for a post that doesn’t even require that much scrutiny.”

An official in the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, requesting anonymity, said, “Yes the recommendations do say that 50% quota in vacancies to apprentices should be given. Based on the seniority of apprentices, it was recommended that they be given priority, but these were just recommendations on which the final call was to be made by the policy makers. It is not practical to make employment compulsory for every person who has finished his/her apprenticeship. It would be good to add more job opportunities, but that is a gradual process. What deserves appreciation here is that the 2014 amendments to the Apprentice Act have allowed the common man to get an on-the-job-training using modern machinery that was earlier not easily accessible.”

The Apprentices (Amendment) Bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2014 and removed imprisonment as punishment for violating the provisions of the Apprentices Act, 1961 and allowed employers to fix the hours of work and leave as per their discretion or policy. The Apprentices (Amendment) Act 2014 opened apprenticeship training to non-engineering graduates and diploma holders, and new trades, including IT-enabled services. It empowered employers to formulate their own policies for recruiting apprentices. The employers under the Act could also undertake training of new courses which were demand-based. The provisions included making apprenticeship responsive to youth and industry, increasing skilled labour, easing of rules for employers to recruit apprentices and allowing them to undertake demand-driven courses. The central government was also empowered to make rules with regard to qualification, period of apprenticeship training, holding of tests, grant of certificates and other conditions relating to apprenticeship in optional trade.

However, in 2014, BSP, SP and CPM ministers had objected to “doing away with the penal provisions” and termed the 2014 amendments as “draconian in nature” as it allowed “too much flexibility in the apprentice framework”.

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