Article: We are still fighting for minimum wages

Employee Relations

We are still fighting for minimum wages

No one is responsible for the wages, health & safety of contract labourers, says Virjesh Upadhyay, General Secretary, BMS
We are still fighting for minimum wages
 

There is no record for 89 per cent of the workforce–no names, no details on wages and as they work within the unorganized sector no one is responsible for their safety or health either

 

Companies need to deal with workmen first as humans. With the kind of scenario that is prevalent in the industry today, unless the companies understand that there are some basic requirements that any human being will need for life and work, there will be no movement.

There is a change in the pattern of work in most industries. A majority of them are employing contract labour and the number of employees on the roll has reduced to almost 17 per cent. Since they are employing a disproportionately large contract labour workforce, employers feel that they are not obligated to ensure worker wages after payment to the contractor. Companies pay contractors a certain sum of money for certain number of products. This is where we tend to differ from them. It is the responsibility of the principal employers whose products we manufacture, to ensure that the workmen are at least paid minimum wages.

Most of the workforces in the manufacturing sector comprise contract labourers, but there is no data available for them. According to a recent Times of India publication, only 17 per cent of the population is part of the regular workforce. We at BMS think the number is much lower and touches just 11 per cent. There is no record for the rest 89 per cent of the workforce–no names, no details on wages and as they work within the unorganized sector, no one is responsible for their safety or health either. All the news on wage hikes that you hear is based on the 11 per cent, which is a much skewed representation of facts. While a very limited number of people have seen hike in their wages, the wage hike for the majority of the population is not even comparable to inflation.

Take for example the Maruti incident where an HR manager was burned to death. The whole issue had been on the pay divide between the regular workforce and the contract labourers. A regular worker and a contract worker delivered the same kind of work. But, when revised salaries were announced, the regular worker got hikes as high as Rs 20,000, whereas the contract worker got only about Rs 4,000-5,000.

The wage scenario has not changed in the last two decades. There are three levels of concepts when it comes to wages: Minimum wage, living wage and fair wage. We are still fighting at the primary level trying to ensure minimum wages for a majority of the labour community. This problem is imminent across almost all sectors. As a union, we are requesting all industries to ensure minimum wages for the labour community. This will help raise the standard of living across all sectors. It is the responsibility of the companies to ensure that the next generation of these workers is at least a step ahead in terms of social standing.

A large population of the community is being paid less than the minimum wage and this is promoting a vicious cycle of inflation in the industry. Anyone earning fair money at their job goes back to the market to spend the same and that money percolates down the chain. However, if capital is limited to a few hands and a majority of the community is earning close to nothing, it promotes inflation across all industries. When a contract labourer is paid as low as Rs 3,000 per month, there is a great divide in the society. If this living standard improves, it will not just empower individuals but the economy of the country as a whole. The strength of a country’s economic progress is not measured by four malls, but by the small businessmen in the streets of the nation.

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Topics: Employee Relations, #IndustrialRelations

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