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Family recast cry for wages

New Delhi: Sangh labour arm Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh has urged the labour ministry to change its definition of "family" to pave the way for a higher minimum wage, but a Left union suggested this could be a delaying tactic to help the government.

The BMS wants "family" to include a worker's old parents, who have been left out of the wage calculations for the past 60 years.

Since 1957, the government has defined a family as made up of the husband and the wife as two units and two "growing" (minor) children as a single unit.

The wage is calculated on the basis of the estimated consumption expenditure of three units, whatever the actual number of members in the family.

Other national-level trade union bodies do agree in principle to the BMS suggestion but say that the immediate task is to get the Centre to raise the minimum wage.

Currently, the minimum central monthly wage for unskilled labour in the smaller (Tier 3) cities is Rs 10,500. The unions want it raised to an across-the-board Rs 18,000, as suggested by the 7th Pay Commission last year.

They want the higher figure included in the government's Code of Wages Bill, introduced in Parliament during the monsoon session, which is silent on wage calculations and deals with issues such as the settlement of wage disputes and modes of payment.

Tapan Sen, general secretary of CPM labour arm Citu, said the BMS demand was aimed at giving an "escape route" to the government at a time it was under pressure to incorporate the existing wage calculation formula into the bill and implement the pay panel recommendation.

If the formula is not made statutory, Sen said, the bureaucrats would arbitrarily decide wages. As for amending the definition, it would be a time-consuming process, so shifting the focus to it would be counterproductive.

"The demand to amend the definition of 'family' is meant to divert attention," Sen said.

BMS general secretary Virjesh Upadhyaya defended his organisation's demand, citing the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act 2007.

The act makes it a legal obligation for people to provide food, clothing, housing, health care and such necessities to their parents, grandparents or other senior citizens whose heirs they are. It provides for revocation of the transfer of property bestowed by senior citizens to their negligent children or heirs.

"Negligence of old parents is now an offence; so expenditure on them should be part of wage calculation," Upadhyaya said.

The wage is now calculated on the basis of suggestions made by the 15th labour conference in 1957. It said an adult constituting one unit would consume 2,700 calories food a day and require 72 yards of clothing a year, apart from making some expenditures on items such as light and fuel.

Later, the Supreme Court directed that this be increased by another 25 per cent to account for expenditures on several other goods and services.

"The existing wage gives a bare minimum living to the workers. There is justification for the demand for redefining the family," said Archana Prasad, a professor at the Centre of Informal Sector and Labour Studies at JNU.

The labour ministry seems not too keen to either tweak the definition of family or include the existing definition in the bill. A senior ministry official said that Parliament would discuss the issue.

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