The decision of increasing minimum wages of unskilled, semi-skilled, and skilled workers in the National Capital Territory of Delhi followed by strong criticism by Workers Unions have brought the issue of unprecedented suffering of unorganized workers again in focus.
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) led Delhi government has decided to increase the monthly wages of unskilled workers by Rs 260 per month, ie Rs 8.66 per day. For semi-skilled workers the increase is Rs 286 per month (Rs 9.53 per day) and for skilled workers Rs 312 per month (Rs 10.40 per day).
The new rates would be implemented from October 1, 2023, but it cannot alleviate the workers predicaments on account of unaffordable cost of living even in hordes in slums amidst the unprecedented housing crisis in absence of any social security coverage. Moreover, there is no urban employment guarantee programme for them and very large number of workers have to go without any job for days. Unemployment rate in India is presently 9.3 per cent in the midst of festival season as on October 21, 2023 as per the CMIE data based on 30 day moving average.
The untold story of sufferings of the workers are veiled is some attractive figures, as far as Delhi is concerned, which is far from the reality on the ground. For example, the news government minimum rates would be Rs 17,494 per month (Rs 673 per day) for unskilled workers, Rs 19,279 (Rs 742 per day) for semi-skilled workers, and Rs 21,215 (Rs 816 per day) for skilled workers. The rates can impress workers from across the country, since the government rates in their states and the UTs for both agriculture, MGNREGA, or industrial or urban workers are even much less than this.
Minister of Labour in Delhi government Raaj Kumar Anand has even boasted that the minimum wage of workers in Delhi is the highest in the country. “This decision of the Delhi government will benefit unskilled, semi-skilled, skilled and other workers in all scheduled employment categories. People working on minimum wages in the unorganised sector should also benefit from dearness allowance, which is usually given to state and central government employees,” he said.
His statement concealing the ground reality has been exposed by even Delhi Asangathit Nirman Mazdoor Union (DANMU) by telling the people how the hike in wages was not enough. The secretary of DANMU Thaneshwar Dayal Adigaur said, “The hike is not enough considering the inflation rate. It is a bitter truth that the minimum wage fixed by the government is not provided to any employee by most organisations or employers. Even workers working in government departments do not get it. The government should ensure that the minimum wages are provided by them so that whatever little benefits the government has announced reach the beneficiaries.”
Delhi BJP has also criticised the little increase in the minimum wages by claiming the AAP led Delhi government also does not pay its workers the minimum wage. Delhi Pradesh BJP spokesperson Praveen Shankar Kapoor said, “The truth is that even the Kejriwal government does not give minimum wages to its employees. Most people working as contractual employees in Delhi government or MCD offices are not getting the prescribed minimum wages… The Delhi government has failed to educate workers about their rights and social security schemes.”
Unwittingly, when criticising Delhi government especially AAP and its CM Arvind Kejriwal, the BJP’s Delhi spokesperson concealed two serious faults of his own party led by PM Narendra Modi, whose policies have allowed the practice of “contractual” workers for who he was shedding his tears. First is, after the amendment in Law, Delhi Government means LG of Delhi, who is nominee of the ruling BJP at the Centre. For anything wrong happening in Delhi, the Centre is directly responsible for not taking appropriate action. If workers are not getting their due wages why LG and the Centre is not taking action against the culprits? The answer lies in apathy and neglect of the Modi government for the working class, not only in Delhi but across the country.
Modi government’s neglect and apathy towards working class can be seen even in the government data in Periodic Labour Force Surveys (PLFS). In 2011-12, workers in organised sector were 17 per cent, which reduced to 13.2 per cent in 2017-18, and now to only 6 per cent. It means workers have been systematically ejected from the decent jobs of the organised sector under PM Modi’s regime in the country and increasingly pushed into insecure unorganised sector that swelled from 83 per cent in 2011-12 to 86.8 per cent in 2017-18, and now 94 per cent in 2023 as per AITUC.
AITUC leaders have been claiming for some time now in workers meeting that the Modi government has been adopting a policy that has also increased the number of informal sector workers which has now become 97 per cent. As per PLFS government data informal workers were 92.4 per cent in 2011-12 and 90.7 per cent just six years ago in 2017-18.
Since informal and unorganised sector jobs are low quality jobs on account of lack of social security coverage, the increase of percentage of workers in the sector is quite disturbing under PM Modi regime, when formal jobs have been disappearing fast, especially in the last six years and has reached to the level of 97 per cent of the total workforce, as AITUC leaders are claiming.
How PM Modi led government has been causing such a structural shift in favour of the corporates? The answer is well known – through policies allowing the organised sector greater informalization, contract workers, outsourced workers, gig workers, fixed term employment workers, apprentices and so on. Government has also been targeting trade unionism, which is stronger in organized sector, and little presence in unorganized sector.
As of now only 7 per cent of all workers are in trade unions, which includes less than one per cent from the unorganized sector. Such a situation has made trade unionism in the country more or less ineffective, and hence, most of the workers are on the mercy of the employers, not even getting enough wages to survive in the informal and unorganized sector, even in the National Capital Territory of Delhi under the nose of India’s seat of power in New Delhi. (IPA Service)