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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 19 June 2024

Centre remains indifferent towards problem of low wages, a continual frustration for daily labourers

Union labour ministry had stopped notifying National Minimum Floor Level Wage, which is not binding on states but provides benchmark on revising minimum wage

Basant Kumar Mohanty New Delhi Published 23.05.24, 06:56 AM
Representational image

Representational image File picture

Low wage is the common thread that connects agriculture workers Pundalik Uike of Maharashtra and Rahul Kumar of Uttar Pradesh.

Both Uike, aged 40, from Mainkhat village in Wardha district of Maharashtra and Kumar, aged 35, who lives 1,000km away in Nagla Mahadev village in Firozabad district of Uttar Pradesh, earn 350 a day.

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However, Uike, a land-owning tribal, is much better off than Kumar who is a landless Dalit.

To manage his family of four, Uike makes additional income through farming, while Kumar struggles to manage the expenses of his family of six. Both Uike and Kumar said the wage of 350 per day had remained the same since 2021.

“Before the Covid-19 outbreak, the wage was around 250-300 a day. During the pandemic, the wage increased to 300-350 a day. Since then, the wage has remained the same,” Uike said.

Low wages have been a point of continual frustration for daily labourers across rural India, as the central and state governments remained indifferent towards the problem.

Uike said a family of four with two schoolchildren can’t survive solely on the income from daily labour. “Work is not available all 30 days. A person may fall ill and may not work every day. So, the monthly earning adds up to 7,000-8,000. The only way, a worker’s life can improve is by increasing the daily wage,” Uike said.

Kumar said because of the low wage, nearly 50 youths from his village have migrated to Delhi and other cities in search of jobs.

“Those who are going to Delhi, Punjab or Kerala can probably earn around 12,000-15,000 a month. I cannot go because I have four children to take care of,” Kumar said.

Labour economist Shyam Sundar, an adjunct professor at Management Development Institute (MDI) Gurgaon, said the Union labour ministry had stopped notifying a National Minimum Floor Level Wage (NMFLW), which is not binding on the states but provides a benchmark on revising minimum wage.

The NMFLW, last notified in 2017, was 176 per day. It used to be notified once in two years but the revision is due since July 2019.

Sundar said that in 2018 a central government-appointed expert committee headed by professor Anoop Satpathy had recommended that the minimum wage should not be less than 375. However, the government has not yet accepted the report.

The NDA government has enacted four labour codes replacing 29 labour laws. Under the Code on Wages, the Centre has powers to notify a national floor wage keeping in view the minimum living standards. Such floor wage will serve as the threshold below which no state can prescribe their minimum wage. But the rules are yet to be framed and floor wage is yet to be notified.

In September 2021, the ministry formed another expert committee to recommend minimum wage. The committee headed by S.P. Mukherjee, an emeritus professor of Calcutta University, is yet to submit its report.

“The Centre has neither revised the NMFLW nor implemented the national floor wage as provided under wage-code legislation. The states are revising without proper study on consumption expenditure and living costs. As a result, the workers get disastrous wages,” he said.

An email was sent to the secretary of Union labour Sumita Dawra to understand the reason behind the delay in submission of the report of the Mukherjee committee and the non-implementation of the national floor wage. Her response is awaited.

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