Activists express solidarity with unorganised workers, support their nation-wide strike
New Delhi: Many prominent activists on Tuesday expressed solidarity with trade unions who have called a nation-wide strike on September slamming government for betraying the cause of informal sector workers in the country.
These activists include Swami Agnivesh, Chairperson Bandhua Mukti Morcha, Ashim Roy, Vice-President of New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI), and Indu Prakash Singh, a member of the Working Peoples’ Charter and also the convenor of National Forum for Housing Rights.
In a press conference on the eve of the strike, these activists alleged that the government has so far been non-committal on the question of wages and social security for 92% of India’s working class.
They said that 92 percent of the total workers are informal workers (82.43 percent unorganized and 9.43 percent in organized sector). Out of the total informal workers only 11 percent are regular wage / salaried and 89 percent are self employed and casual workers.
They emphasised on the specific steps that government should take, the most crucial being, ensuring a minimum of Rs. 15,000 as monthly floor wage with provision of indexation and to make it statutorily binding. They have also asked for a universal implementation of the minimum wages act. The groups have also laid forth a demand for atleast Rs. 3000/- as pension for the entire working population. They have also called for strengthening the labour administration so as to meet the demands of India’s 460 million strong work forces that are estimated as engaged in informal jobs, many of them subjected to exploitative working conditions such as bonded labour.
Swami Agnivesh said that the absence of a Rational and National level Minimum Wage Commission for the entire informal sector 92 percent workers has reduced their statics to Modern Day Slavery. According to Government of India’s own data the contribution of informal sector to GDP in 55 percent. Then why such raw deal?
“How can you develop your internal economy when nearly 100 crore people are left with no purchasing power for a better life? ”, he asked.
“Variation in the minimum wage across the States is so wide that it puts a question on the approach for the fixation of the minimum wage and existing inequalities. For example current daily wage for the unskilled wage labourer in Jharkhand and Bihar is Rs. 178 and Rs. 194 respectively, whereas it is Rs. 348 in Delhi. This is why a national minimum floor level wage is important and we demand it to be atleast Rs. 15,000/- per month”, Ashim Roy, Vice-President of New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) pointed out.
“Delhi has an estimated 6-7 Lakh women working as domestic workers and the numbers aren’t too far off in other major cities as well. They are so crucial to a city’s economy and existence yet when it comes to paying them decent wages and ensuring their job security we see no action on the ground”, said Anita Juneja, member of Trade Union Coordination Committee [TUCC]In the charter of demands presented, the groups have also pressed for atleast 300 days of work in a year and a clear step forward in ensuring wage equity as well as in ensuring job security for the workers in informal sector.
Labour market inequalities are large and disparities and inequalities have generally increased. The most striking is the disparity between the regular/casual and organized/ unorganized sector workers: the average daily earnings of a casual worker stood at Rs. 138 in rural areas and Rs. 173 in urban areas in 2011-12, and that of a regular worker at Rs. 298 in rural areas and Rs. 445 in urban areas, while that of a central public sector enterprise employee was Rs. 2,005 per day. And, of course, the public sector employee has many other benefits as well as a secure job. Thus, a rural casual worker earned less than 7 per cent of the salary of a public-sector employee (India Labour and Employment Report, 2014).
“Worker’s housing is also a crucial point in this debate. The national housing and habitat policy should be implemented where a house is not merely structure of four walls and roof rather it should provide for basic services including water, sanitation, hygienic environment, energy, safety & security, facilities for health, education, recreation and transportation and above all it should be linked with the livelihood / employment, in keeping with the purpose of decent living conditions to ensure dignified life.” added Indu Prakash Singh, a member of the Working Peoples’ Charter and also the convenor of National Forum for Housing Rights