All India Strike: What made the trade union members take the call?

The government has announced an increase in the minimum wage from Rs. 246 to Rs. 350.  This is a 42% increase in the wages for the unskilled, non-agricultural central government employees. Now the employees under the category – C can earn Rs. 9100 for 26 days of work.

But, even though the government agreed to make provisions to increase the minimum wages, the trade union members still held the all-India strike on Friday.  What has led them to take such steps? Here is a breakup:

The trade union had demanded a minimum wage of the workers under the C-category to Rs. 18,000 per month. For the Class A and Class B category, the demand of wages was Rs 26,560 and Rs 22,320 respectively. However, the government only agreed on the wages to be Rs 13,598 for category-A, Rs 11,362 for category-B and Rs 9,100 for the C-category which is half of the demanded wage amount. There is also an urban –rural divide existing in the allotment of categories of employees.

The modifications in the minimum wage will be made by the central government in accordance with the Minimum Wage Act (1948). The unskilled non-agricultural central government employment has 45 professions, some of which are-construction workers, mine workers, loaders and unloaders etc.

The states have agreed to realise the minimum wage amendment only if there are more than thousand registered employees in the particular employment. The largest number of scheduled jobs is registered in Assam at 105 in 2013. States like Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa are close in competition with Assam in the number.

According to the National Floor Level Minimum Wage proposed by National Commission on Rural Labour (1991), a uniform wage structure was fixed at a minimum of Rs. 35 per day. This minimum wage was revised in the following years and currently the minimum wage stands at Rs 160 per day. The disadvantage of the recommendations made by the National Commission on Rural Labour is that it not mandatory in all the states in the country and therefore there is a great disparity in the minimum wages of different parts of the country due to a lack of statutory backing.

The states have been advised to not fix the minimum wage lower than the proposed wage. Few states in the country namely Delhi and Kerala, have a higher minimum than the wage announced by the government. The current problem is that in the absence of a set legal foundation backing the minimum wage in the various parts of the country, it can drop to a very low amount and the outrage of the trade union members seems to a backlash of the same situation.

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