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Delhi minimum wage issue: Hopes of better pay dashed, workers put dreams on hold

The Delhi High Court on August 4 quashed the Delhi government’s wage revision after many employers moved court citing additional financial burden.

delhi Updated: Aug 08, 2018 11:35 IST
Delhi,Delhi govt minimum wage hike,Delhi HC
Daily wage labourers wait to be hired at a ‘labour chowk’ in Kalyan Puri on Tuesday, August 7, 2018.(Sushil Kumar/HT PHOTO)

In December 2017, the salary account of Prakash Yadav, who works as a helper with the administrative department of Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA), was credited with Rs 3,206 more than his usual pay. This meant he could finally buy the saree his wife had been eying for months, get his son enrolled in a coaching centre to crack his engineering entrance and may even consider buying a new refrigerator on instalment.

“Rs3,000 is a lot of money for poor people like me,” he said.

Yadav was among the lucky few who benefitted from the Delhi government’s revised minimum wages that was supposed to have increased the wages of around 5.5 million scheduled employees.

But their aspirations for a better wage were short-lived.

The Delhi High Court on August 4 quashed the government’s wage revision after many employers moved court citing additional financial burden.

Under the proposal, the government had increased minimum wages of unskilled workers from Rs 9,724 to Rs 13,350 per month, for semi-skilled workers from Rs10,764 to Rs 14,698 and for skilled labourers from Rs 11,830 to Rs 16,182.

While the government has said it would approach the Supreme Court, lakhs of workers have been left wondering how they will manage their households without the additional income.

“I do not know how I will afford my son’s coaching fees, but I will not let my financial status hold his dreams back,” said Yadav.

Delhi’s labour minister Gopal Rai had on Tuesday called a meeting with officials and government counsels in this regard, officials familiar with the matter said. “We will take around seven to ten days to build a strong case. We cannot go half-prepared. The lives and livelihoods of lakhs of people depend on this order,” a senior official said.

Though the order fixing the minimum wages in Delhi was implemented in 2017, the high court had said the government cannot take any coercive action against employers who choose not to abide by the order. This rider had made the effectiveness of the order questionable. Many private contractors and companies were yet to implement this notification.

To make the compliance mandatory, the Delhi government had passed the Minimum Wages (Delhi) Amendment Act in the Assembly first in 2016 and then a revised version was again reintroduced in August 2017.

“There was 100% compliance in Delhi government departments. However, in case of private employers or industries or companies some were complying and while others weren’t. The HC had already made it clear that money disbursed to the workers will not be recovered,” the official said.

Though many were yet to start getting benefits, there was hope that when this order would be made mandatory, their incomes will increase.

In 2010, when Maheshwar Kumar came to Delhi from his village in Amroha, Uttar Pradesh, he was only 17 years old. He said dreams of a life in the national Capital and a better lifestyle had kept him awake throughout the 16-hour train journey.

“I am a construction worker and back then I used to get Rs 6,000 a month. Eight years later I make Rs 8,000, out of which I have to give Rs 250 to the contractor,” Kumar said.

He said that since the order was introduced last year, most mornings when his friends wait at the “labour chowk” in Burari in search of their daily assignment, they would often discuss how much their income would increase.

“If my income increases, I will be able to bring my family to Delhi. I have not seen them in two years. Going home means I will have to get my pay deducted and I cannot afford that,” he said.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s court order has left several private employers, who had increased the salaries of their employees, in a fix.

A manager of a facility management company that provides contractual labour to various organisations said they increased the wages for their employees last year, but now since the HC has quashed the notification they may have to take a tough call. “We are in talks with our clients to reach some solution. If nothing comes out of it, we might have to disburse the old salaries,” said the manager who refused to give his name citing the sensitivity of the case.

Senior lawyer Colin Gonsalves said setting aside a minimum wages notification is a “terrible thing”.

“There should be no problem if the minimum wage workers are getting some benefit. It is right of the government to challenge the HC’s order over minimum wages in the Supreme Court,” he said.

Human rights activist Harsh Mander said the “poor enforcement” of labour rules and the lack of a recognised organisation for lower level workers leads to rise in instances of exploitation by employers. “In China, there is a parallel rise in the graph of the country’s growth and the income of people. In India, however, though the country has progressed, the real wages of workers have remained stagnant. This means, while we are creating jobs we do not want to share the gains with our workers,” he said.

First Published: Aug 08, 2018 11:34 IST