The Directive Principles of State Policy proclaim that “The State shall endeavor to secure, by suitable legislation or economic organisation or in any other way, to all workers agricultural, industrial or otherwise, work, a living wage, conditions of work ensuring a decent standard of life and full enjoyment of leisure and social and cultural opportunities.”
The Fair Wages Committee, set up soon after Indian independence, declared that it would not be possible to ensure living wages for all workers for some years. It recommended what it called a Minimum Wage. The minimum wage is defined as the lowest wage necessary to maintain a worker and his family at the minimum level of subsistence, which includes food, clothing and shelter. It is less than the “living wage”, which includes the costs of education, health care and other requirements of a decent human existence.
The Indian Labour Conference, at its 15th session in 1957, formulated a method of calculation of minimum wages. The Supreme Court, in a judgment in 1991, declared that 25% must be added to that formula, to take care of the costs of education, health care, festivals, marriages and old age support. No government has set minimum wages according to the ILC norms, let alone the addition laid down by the Supreme Court.
At the present time, trade unions are fighting for a floor level of at least Rs. 18,000 per month, below which no worker should have to work anywhere in the country. In Delhi, workers’ unions organized a general strike on 20th July, demanding a minimum wage of Rs 20,000.
There are two major problems which workers are facing with regards to the minimum wage. The first is that the Central government is refusing to follow the ILC recommendation. The second problem is that the government has failed to enforce the implementation of even the existing legal minimum. Millions of workers are paid much less than the statutory minimum wages and no action is taken against their employers.
The ideologues of the bourgeoisie keep propagating the lie that if the minimum wage is raised the capitalists will go bankrupt. The fact is that the wages of labour are abysmally low in our country while rates of capitalist profit are extremely high. By setting the minimum at an extremely low sub-human level, and refusing to ensure the implementation of even this inadequate minimum, the government is enabling Indian and foreign capitalists to super-exploit Indian labour to the maximum possible degree.