CHENNAI: Recently the Union Labour Ministry set an all new base price for labourers. This central figure of Rs 160 now raises imperative questions as states have their own wage-margins. The new floor wage aims to essentially disallow bodies from paying less than this marginal wage to any worker, be it from Tripura or Tamil Nadu.
Wages are usually determined for three slabs — Unskilled (helpers, sweepers, peons), Semi-skilled (assistant workmen, waiters)and Skilled labour (operators, carpenters, drivers). But the debate on whether the government-fixed minimal wages practically go far, continues. “The minimum wage that we have had in place is nothing but legitimizing employee exploitation. How can one expect to lead a livelihood with a salary of Rs 4,800 a month? The act itself makes no sense,” says R Mohan, District Secretary of AICCPU.
A simple, almost shocking fact is that industries don’t make it visibly known to its employees the minimum wages they are entitled to. Many unorganised sector workers don’t even realize they are paid lesser than their roster determines for them.
Like 59-year-old Dakshinamurthy G, who works as a security guard at an apartment complex in Chennai. He earns Rs 5,000 monthly while he is legally entitled to a salary of Rs 8,000. It is almost 37.5% portion of his monthly entitlement, that is missed. That is more than a third of stunted spending in food, clothing, commute and luxury.
The demands put up by labour unions go beyond just the widely-protested demand for a minimum monthly salary of Rs 15,000. Making void the Minimum Wages Act 1945 and instituting periodical surprise-checks by state government also figure in the most frequently made demands. “Migrant workers are most affected by non-implementation of an already flawed act” says an industry insider. “We might start needing payslips in future to avoid discrepancy.” Many women like Muthumari, who works as domestic help readily agree. She wishes for her job too be considered. ‘Consideration’ in this context would mean inclusion of Domestic workers into the scheduled work as well. She earns Rs 3000 a month, working four households. But the limitations of the Minimum Wage Act stands helpless in her regard. No minimum wages here, only minimum consideration.