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How India Can Take Better Care Of Its Workers

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Constituting at least 94% of the workforce, the unorganized sector in India contributes more than 60 per cent to the nation’s GDP. But are we doing enough for this sector? Not really! Below are the major issues faced by the labour market in India, and how India’s our responsibility towards them:

1. Inclusive pro-labour laws:
During this year’s International Workers’ Day, thousands of workers held a protest in Mumbai protesting against the ‘anti-labour’. The government has always been criticised by the worker and labour unions for prioritizing the industrial corporations at the cost of the labour class. One of the recent amendments to the Factories Act, 1948, included a proposal to long work hours and overtime, which was completely inhumane when compared to global standards. The amendment suggested work over 12 hours, while the global norm is just 8 hours. Further, the limit on overtime, which is currently 75 hours per quarter, is now raised to hundred hours per quarter. So, it not only makes working hours longer but it also makes you work longer. Well, in 2015, the Modi government announced a change in the Minimum Wage Act which stated that every person in India, whether blue/white collar will earn minimum Rs. 15,000 wage. Amazing right? But, even with this amendment, we are the lowest salary paying country.

2. Ensuing wages which are enough to live a dignified life:
Our constitution defines ‘living wage’ for a worker. As per the definition, it should ensure a basic standard of living, which includes good health, dignity, comfort, and education. All these factors get crossed out one by one from the list which features our workers, labourers and the massive unorganised sector. Owing to their illiteracy, poor implementation of laws and lack of knowledge they are often exploited by the big companies. The worst in the garment industry (which employs 35 million workers) where companies like H&M, GAP, Walmart etc pay below minimum legal wage is as little as 22p per hour to their workers.
Despite a provision under the Minimum Wages Act which clearly states that the government must increase the wages every 5 years, it seldom is implemented. Despite the involvement of the court, the garment workers do not receive the increased wages. In 2017, women who form the largest part of India’s$40 billion textile and garment industry, claimed millions of dollars in compensation for being grossly underpaid.
As per a petition onChange.org, Rs. 600 (ie 18,000/month) is the minimum amount a worker requires for living a dignified life.
As per experts, just like the developing countries like US and Canada, we too should start paying per hourly basis and amend the law accordingly.

3. Ending the wide wage disparity between regular and contract workers:
A contract worker in Bengaluru working in the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board earns Rs. 7,200 per month. Hanumantharayappa T, 38, is one of them. He states that any regular employee doing the same job would earn Rs. 40,000. Due to lack of protection and legal regulation for contract workers, they earn less than half of the wages than the permanent workers. Indian contract labour law needs to catch up with the reality. In fact, the government is the biggest employer of contract or temporary workers. The Centre spent approximately Rs. 300 crore in 2012-13.
Over the years, the contract workers have been demanding equal pay for equal work, but their demand has not been accepted by the government. The current law in relation to contract workers – The Contract Workers Abolition & Regulation Act – does not provide for equal pay for equal work. However, the Act does state that the companies cannot engage contractual workers in work which is permanent in nature. Despite that, in Maruti, atleast1,400 out of 3,000 workers have been paid half the permanent staff for doing the same job.
The government needs to ensure that the law is amended to ensure contract workers get equal pay for equal work, say experts. Likewise, the companies and workforce have to take steps to make it more inclusive for them as well.  For instance, the Employer’s Federation of India, a committee of employers launched an initiative to make workplace that is “competitive, fair and inclusive” for contract workers.

4. A worker’s relief plan post privatisation:
Workers in the public sector kind of have a job security till they retire. The trade unions also enjoy more freedom in a PSU than a private company where their wings like likely to be chopped off. Sure, privatisation could mean a loss of job for many workers. For instance, Mid-day meal workers have been protesting as around 2,000 workers employed as cooks could lose their jobs over the plan to privatise Mid-day meal scheme. In 2018, All Assam Midday Meal Workers’ Union protested against the government’s decision to privatise Mid-day meals which would mean 1,14,000 workers becoming jobless. Similarly, around 11 trade union including 10,000 Air India employees protested against the national carrier’s privatisation on Labour Day. The leaders claimed that this disinvestment plan will suffer the same fate of job losses as it did when the NDA government decided to sell 2 Centaur Hotels in 2013.

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