Article: From minimum to dignified: India's bold step towards ensuring worker wellbeing

Compensation & Benefits

From minimum to dignified: India's bold step towards ensuring worker wellbeing

India is moving towards replacing the minimum wage with a living wage, a more comprehensive measure that considers the actual cost of living and aims to ensure a dignified standard of living for workers and their families.
From minimum to dignified: India's bold step towards ensuring worker wellbeing

As India continues its journey towards sustainable economic development, one critical area demanding attention is the welfare of its vast informal workforce. With a significant portion of the labour market operating in the unorganised sector, where cash transactions are the norm, implementing robust wage protection measures becomes paramount. 

The longstanding debate between minimum wage and living wage has taken on a new urgency, as the government explores a shift from the former to the latter, seeking guidance from the International Labour Organisation (ILO). This potential transition holds profound implications for millions of workers toiling in the informal economy.

The minimum wage conundrum

India's Minimum Wages Act of 1948 established a legal framework for determining the lowest permissible wage rates across various sectors and skill levels. However, this system has faced criticism for failing to keep pace with the rising cost of living, leaving many workers trapped in a cycle of poverty. The Act's implementation has been further complicated by varying wage rates across states and the exploitation of loopholes by some employers to skirt their obligations.

The introduction of the National Floor Level Minimum Wage (NFLMW) in 1996 aimed to create a universal baseline, preventing states from setting wages below a certain threshold. As of 2023, the NFLMW stands at INR 178 per day, with states formulating their minimum wage regulations accordingly. Nonetheless, concerns persist about the adequacy of these wages in providing a decent standard of living, especially in the face of rising inflation.

The living wage proposition

Enter the concept of a living wage, advocated by the ILO as an income level necessary to afford a dignified standard of living for workers and their families, considering the country's circumstances. Unlike the minimum wage, which establishes a legal floor, the living wage aims to provide workers with sufficient earnings to cover essential household expenses, offering a more comprehensive approach to worker wellbeing.

For India's informal workforce, the transition to a living wage system could be a game-changer. By accounting for the actual cost of living, the living wage promises to lift millions out of poverty and ensure their overall wellbeing, aligning with the nation's commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

Challenges on the path ahead

While the shift towards a living wage is a positive step, challenges remain. Implementing a national living wage framework across states with varying costs of living will require careful planning and coordination. Some businesses, particularly small and medium enterprises, may face financial strain due to increased labour costs, necessitating support mechanisms to ease the transition.

Moreover, India's vast geographical expanse and diversity make it challenging to establish a uniform living wage rate that accounts for the disparities in living costs across cities, states, and districts. Striking the right balance between ensuring worker well-being and maintaining business affordability will be a delicate balancing act.

The way forward

Despite these challenges, India's robust economic growth, with a rate of 8.4%, indicates the country's capacity to support higher wages. Addressing worker concerns about the inadequacy of the current minimum wage, especially in the face of inflation, is a driving factor behind the shift towards a living wage.

The government's commitment to developing a well-defined and operational living wage system, with technical assistance from the ILO, is crucial for the successful implementation of this policy. Extensive consultations with stakeholders, including employers, workers, and civil society organizations, will be essential to ensure a smooth transition and address potential concerns.


India's aim to replace the minimum wage with a living wage by 2025 represents a significant step towards improving the lives of its informal workforce. By acknowledging the limitations of the minimum wage system and embracing the more holistic living wage concept, the nation is poised to uplift millions from poverty and promote decent work opportunities. 

However, the road ahead is not without obstacles, and careful navigation will be required to balance worker welfare with business sustainability. With a steadfast commitment and a well-crafted implementation strategy, India can pave the way for a more equitable and prosperous future for its informal workers, setting an example for other nations grappling with similar challenges.

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Topics: Compensation & Benefits, Other employee benefits, Economy & Policy, #Wellbeing, #DayInFocus

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