BECAUSE of the ever rising prices, the family budgets of workers across the country, in all sectors, are being squeezed. Whatever meagre increases they achieve through their struggles are offset by the rising prices. In effect, this means that for the same money, workers are able to buy less and less amounts of the commodities.
The situation has become even more difficult for the lakhs of contract and casual workers who are not even paid the statutory minimum wages. Their wages are not even linked to the consumer price index (CPI). In many places workers are so desperate that they are forced to take up two jobs. They are compelled to work for 10-12 hours, at normal wage rates – not double wages as stipulated for over time – just to make ends meet. Such a harsh exploitation has blown away the concept of eight hour working day for many in our country.
On the other hand, big corporate houses, both domestic and foreign, continue to reap super profits. They seek to maintain their profits by cutting down the ‘cost’ of labour – by reducing the number of workers, increasing their work load, reducing or ‘freezing’ wages, by contractorisation. The government, instead of providing relief to the workers, is dancing to the tune of the monopolies and corporates like the Ambanis, Adanis, Tatas and Birlas etc. It receives directions from the industry bodies like the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) etc., even while they are not willing to even meet the representatives of the workers.
Since 2016, the joint trade union movement has been demanding minimum wage of Rs 18000 per month. All the trade unions are also demanding that the minimum wage should be linked to the CPI.
How is it justified?
The Seventh Pay Commission for the central government employees appointed by the BJP led government has recommended Rs 18000 as minimum wage. According to the Seventh Pay Commission, this was based upon the formula unanimously adopted by the 15th Indian Labour Conference (ILC) and the directions of the Supreme Court in the Raptakos and Brett case, which was reiterated by the 44th ILC in 2012 and again by the 46th ILC in 2015.
The formula evolved by the 15th ILC for fixing minimum wage and the Supreme Court directions are as follows:
1) Per capita food intake of at least 2700 calories for a worker’s family comprising three units (two adults and two children)
2) Per capita cloth of at least 18 yards per annum
3) Provision of housing as per minimum rent charged by government industrial housing scheme for low-income category
4) Fuel, lighting, miscellaneous expenditures to constitute 20 percent of the total minimum wage.
5) The Supreme Court Judgment (1992) stipulated additional 25 percent of the minimum wage for education, medical expense, recreation and provision of old age and marriage to be taken into account while fixing minimum wage.
The Confederation of Central Government Employees and Workers has challenged this recommendation on the grounds that the minimum wage should be Rs 26,000 on the basis of the ILC recommendation and Supreme Court directions at the prices prevalent in 2015.
However, the BJP led government has accepted the recommendation of the Seventh Pay Commission and decided the minimum wage of Rs 18,000 for the central government employees.
The ILC recommendations and Supreme Court directions for minimum wages are the same for all workers and employees. Prices are the same for everybody. In fact, prices of almost all essential commodities and services, particularly food, clothing, transport and medicines have considerably increased since 2015.
Hence, the demand of Rs 18,000 minimum wage is absolutely justified. The government should immediately concede the demand.
But what is the government doing?
Instead of accepting the just demand of the workers and amending the Minimum Wages Act accordingly, the BJP led government has introduced the Code on Wages Bill in the Lok Sabha, amalgamating the Minimum Wages Act, the Payment of Wages Act, The Bonus Act and the Equal Remuneration Act. In fact this is an attempt to remove wage fixation from the ambit of labour laws altogether.
This Wage Code Bill leaves fixation of minimum wages to the discretion of the government, the central government and the state governments. It provides for the constitution of a Minimum Wage Advisory Board. But the recommendations of the boards are not binding on the governments.
The Wage Code Bill totally ignores the unanimous recommendations of the ILC and the directions of the Supreme Court on the criteria for fixing the minimum wage.
It reiterates the atrocious provision of deducting eight days’ wages for one day strike, if the strike is declared ‘illegal’. If the draft Industrial Relations Code Bill, another atrocious draft amending labour laws, becomes an Act, then almost all strikes can be declared ‘illegal’.
The provisions on enforcement of minimum wages including regular payment of wages are highly diluted; that all the other provisions will be rendered totally meaningless. Whatever teeth the erstwhile Payment of Wages Act, the Minimum Wages Act, the Equal Remuneration Act and the Payment of Bonus Act had, are all diluted to the extent that enforcement of law will become a casualty. Employers will be empowered to violate the law as per their will.
What is even shameful is the reply of the labour ministry of this BJP government led by Modi to a specific question why the consensus recommendation of Indian Labour Conference on the minimum wage formula was not incorporated in the Code on Wages Bill. It said that this was done to ‘provide for flexibility, adaptability and to cater for dynamic requirements of various components...’ Is any more proof required for the government’s intent on whose interests it wants to serve – the employers or the workers?
Making policies that help the big corporates, domestic and foreign, and amassing wealth by increased exploitation of the workers and the toiling people, is a major part of the neo-liberal agenda, which the successive governments have been following since the last over 25 years. The BJP government led by Modi has further hastened and perfected this disastrous policy.
The ‘Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Rally’ before Parliament on September 5 is to demand:
Minimum wages for all workers, wherever they work, in the factories, offices, mines, agricultural fields or forests. It is to demand the reversal of these policies that starve the toiling people to feed the big corporates.
Let us Unite! Fight!
- No to governments that work for the 0.1%
- For policies that benefit the 99.9%