The Labour Ministry has proposed a Labour Code on Wages Bill 2015 that will replace four existing laws — the Minimum Wages Act 1948, the Payment of Wages Act 1936, the Payment of Bonus Act 1965, and the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976.
Ministry officials claim that the changes are needed to reflect changes in technology and “because they will help create more jobs”. However, looking into the proposed changes codified in the new bill, what is clear is that the new bill (1) denies the longstanding demand of workers and their unions regarding fixation of wages (2) allows for increase in intensity of exploitation of labour. In sum, it is fulfilling the demand of the capitalist class while rejecting the demands of the working class.
The definition of minimum wages and how they are fixed has been a major issue of struggle of working class of our country.
The bourgeoisie wants to push this to the lowest possible level to increase its share of the social product. By lowering the level of minimum wages, the bourgeoisie pushes down the general level of wages. The level of minimum wages at a particular time sets the standard for wages for the vast majority of workers. A substantial proportion of workers are forced to work below this level. Competition for scarce jobs, as well as enforcement machinery which is corrupt and anti worker ensures this. Another substantial proportion gets paid at this level.
The minimum wages are supposed to be adjusted for rising costs and inflation. However, the appropriate governments routinely refuse to revise these wages regularly. In any case, the rise never compensates the actual increase in cost of living. Analysis of changes in minimum wages when adjusted for price rise show that these wages have been falling in real terms over the past twenty five years. It is precisely this period wherein the rate of profit of the capitalists as a whole has been soaring consistently.
According to the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, the Central government sets the minimum wages in certain industries while state governments do the same for the rest of industries. Workers have been demanding that a National Floor Level Minimum Wage be declared below which no state government can set the minimum wages. Furthermore, they have demanded that these wages be set according to the recommendations of the Standing Conference of Labour, 1958 and subsequent Supreme Court judgments. Minimum wages should ensure healthy food and adequate housing, education and health care, transport and sanitation, drinking water and electricity, etc for a family of 4. Workers have also demanded that these wages must meet the needs of the modern worker of today.
Successive governments have been steadily stonewalling this demand. The new wages bill goes a step backwards. It leaves the determination of Minimum Wages to the state governments alone. In other words, the state governments will compete to bring down the level of Minimum Wages to the lowest possible in order to create a favorable investment climate for capitalists.
This is supposed to “create more jobs”. In fact, it is the fact that wages of vast masses of workers have been continuously depressed that is behind the economic crisis. Workers simply do not have the monies to buy the goods produced in the market, hence the capitalists have to stop producing because they have too much accumulated stocks.
Discrimination against women workers
The existing Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 and some other acts covering women workers have not prevented discrimination against women workers in matters of opportunity of employment and of getting equal wages for the same work. In recent years, as more and more women are joining the workforce, the working class movement has been taking up a number of demands pertaining specifically to women workers. . These include safety and security of women in the workplace, as well as provision of child care facilities, maternity leave and so on. The fact that many employers routinely dismiss women workers the moment they are married or are pregnant, is an issue on which the working class has been fighting on.
The Wages Bill 2015 does not address any of these demands specific to women workers. In fact, it goes a step backwards. The earlier Act forbade discrimination of women workers in terms of recruitment, as well as called for the government to set up advisory committees consisting of 50% women, to ensure greater participation of women in the workforce, as well appointment of labour officers to look into complaints by women workers. The Wages Bill 2015 does not include any clauses forbidding discrimination against women in recruitment, or for setting up advisory committees or appointment of labour officers.
“Inspector Raj” to be replaced by “facilitators”
This has been a long standing demand of the capitalists. The new bill does away with factory inspectors and their powers. It creates a new entity called “facilitators” who will assist the capitalists “to comply” with the new bill! The “facilitators” will do formally what the majority of present inspectors do. That is, they will tell the capitalists they are violating the law and advise them on measures to protect themselves. In other words, neither will the capitalist have to pay bribes for violating the rights of workers, nor will there be place for an upright inspector to demand implementation of the rights of workers.
Workers have no love for “inspector raj”. What they want is their rights be guaranteed and enforced by law. The new bill neither guarantees rights nor has any mechanism for enforcement.
Workers have been demanding that with modern technology, it is possible to electronically register all wage and salaried people as workers. The rights of workers need to be established according to modern definitions, with enforcing mechanisms. These rights include a minimum wage which ensures healthy food, clothing and adequate housing, education of the children, drinking water, sanitation, transport, electricity, health care and protection against injuries, pension, and so on. The bill ignores this demand of workers.
The Communist Ghadar Party of India condemns the Wages Bill 2015 and calls upon the working class and all its organizations to step up the struggle in defense of the modern definition of rights for workers.