Friday, May 24, 2024

Workers’ Day and Right to Living Wage


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By Kyrsoibor Pyrtuh

It has become a ritual for the Workers or Labor Union to observe International Workers’ Day or May Day. Although it is important to commemorate this significant event in the History of Labour movements, mere celebration is not enough and will not ease the pressing issues and hardships which the workers across the Nation are encountering, especially the un-organized, contractual workers and those under a labor contractor. In the neo-liberal economy, the workers are being subjugated to slavery with long working hours, no leave entitlements, no social safety nets and pathetic working conditions.
The rights of workers
The Right to Work is not express as the fundamental right in Part III of the Constitution of India, rather it is incorporated in Part IV, which is the Directive Principles of State Policy which makes it unenforceable in Court. However, in 1986 wider judicial interpretation by the Supreme Court had turned it into a Fundamental Right. The wider interpretation of Article 21 made by the Supreme Court of India in its judgement in Olga Tellis and Ors V Bombay Municipal Corporation and Ors, the Right to work was perceived as a fundamental right inalienable in the Right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution.
On the other hand, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1966, recognizes the right to work as the fundamental human right. The covenant states that everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work, and to protection against unemployment.
Nations, especially democratic countries, which are built on the founding principles of Justice, Equality, Liberty and the rule of law are expected to treat workers with respect, recognizing the latter’s dignity and humanity. Despite having constitutional provisions and legal frameworks which aim to protect and promote the fundamental right to work, the workers in the largest democracy like India, are today subjected to harshest kinds of oppression and forced to toil under modern forms of slavery.
Elections Season 2024:
This is the election season whereby tall promises and rhetoric about youths’ development, employment and jobs creation take center stage. Therefore, it is also imperative for the youths to pose hard questions on the political leaders across the political spectrum. What had been promised in the past ten years and what is the reality on the grounds? In fact, we can unequivocally state that there is a mismatch between what was promised and facts on the grounds.
According to reports from the ground entitled, “The Gruesome Betrayal” conducted and compiled by Eddelu Karnataka, the NDA Government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party had promised to create 2 (two) crores new jobs every year and this means that in 10 (ten) years it should have created 20 (twenty) crores jobs. However, today the unemployment rate in the Country has surged to 8.1%. Further, between 2014 and 2019, around 60 (sixty) lakhs Central Government positions were left vacant without being filled. Perhaps the number of vacancies has doubled by now.
The rights of the workers have been mostly removed and throttled. Since the liberalization of the economy, the enforcement and promotion of contractual labor has reached new heights and full scale. It must be remembered that contractual labor is slave labor in the 21st Century. It is pitiable that the average salary of contractual lecturers in the country is about ₹8000 (eight thousand) a month and not to mention the salaries of low-grade contractual workers which are really dehumanizing. There is a mismatch between employment opportunities and increasingly educated skilled workers. As a result, skilled and educated youths who are desperate to get a job are being exploited to the hilt.
It is reported that 50,000 (fifty thousand) Indian youths are recruited to the armed forces every year. But with the introduction of Agniveer scheme recruitment to armed forces is halting and more so 75% of those recruited via Agniveer scheme will become unemployed after four years.
Meghalaya Scenario:
In Meghalaya the demand for review of reservation policy in Government jobs and employment is upfront in the socio-economic and political discourses. However, the fact remains that job opportunities in the Government sector are shrinking by the day and its share of the job market in the State is not more than 15% approximately.
Although as per the available data of 2023 Meghalaya stands at 2.6% in unemployment rate which is relatively low. It must also be noted that it is very difficult to get precise and accurate data in Meghalaya since no institution cares to conduct a scientific survey on crucial matters like employment and economic development. Secondly, it seems that the data on unemployment in Meghalaya does not reflect those people who no longer apply for jobs in the formal sector etc. And many youths in Meghalaya are now employed in the informal sector with low wages and long working hours. Meghalaya is also known as a low wage economy where the workers are underpaid and since the introduction of the gig economy in the State Capital many working youths are on two jobs to eke a living and fend for their families.
Meghalaya is facing not just unemployment but underemployment and the crisis of unemployment in the State can be summarized thus- A random survey of households in the Capital Shillong will give us a telling picture of this humongous problem which cannot be left to the so-called NGOs or leaders alone. In a household which has 3 (three) employable children, only one is employed and out of 10 (ten) households surveyed, between 5 (five) to 6 (six) households are telling the same tragic tale of unemployed sons or daughters sitting idle at home or doing odd jobs occasionally.
The cost of living in Shillong is skyrocketing and working families are struggling to provide better health care, education and decent housing for their children. And the Government is yet to resolve the demand of the SSA teachers to absorb them as regular teachers under the Education Department of the State, to increase the wages of Anganwadi workers, ASHA volunteers, Domestic workers, Private employees etc., to a living wage. There is no indication whatsoever that the Government is going to take steps to improve the living conditions of the toiling population of the State. At the same time no NGOs or “Seng Bhalang” or “Seng ieid Jaitbynriew” make sense when it comes to the problem of unemployment and underemployment in the State. However, let me reiterate that unemployment or underemployment is the biggest threat to the future of our youths and is a real issue. Therefore, on this day the workers must together raise a huge cry and collectively make a strong demand for a living wage and equal pay for equal work for every worker in the State.
Right to Living Wage and Equal Pay for Equal Work:
These are the two important and burning issues before the workers in the State. Any future employment or economic policy which affects the workers, the State must seriously consider these aspects and prioritize the needs of the working class. Economic policy as well as employment policy should be geared towards prosperity, hope and happiness of every citizen. Policies must be framed and measured by human welfare and not profit making. The State must have a policy that encourages the entrepreneurial spirit of the youths and should not be hampered by patronage networks and corruption. Such policies must be rooted in sustainable development and employment generation.
The right to a living wage and equal pay for equal work are fundamental principles that uphold fairness, social and economic justice. These rights ensure that every individual receives fair compensation for their work, allowing them to maintain a decent standard of living and contribute to the overall well-being of the community.
A living wage refers to the minimum income required for an individual or a family to meet their basic needs, such as food, housing, clothing, education, healthcare and leisure. This concept acknowledges that work should be a pathway out of poverty, and everyone deserves a fair opportunity to earn a decent living.
Equal pay for equal work means that individuals performing the same job, with the same level of responsibility and skill, should receive the same compensation, regardless of their gender, race and ethnicity. This principle is essential in addressing income disparities and promoting gender and racial equity in the workplace.
The two recent and important observations of the Supreme Court is another opportune moment for the workers to take forward the struggle for equal pay for equal work, The Apex court observed that (i) “Equal pay for equal work” is not a fundamental right vested in any employee, though it is a constitutional goal to be achieved by the Government and (ii) the doctrine of equal pay for equal work is not an abstract doctrine and is capable of being enforced in the court of law….”


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