Minimum wage hike no bonanza for workers

Manish Sisodia, Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister, recently announced a wage hike as a step “in the interest of the labour class”. However, it is so small that those who work for the government are not thrilled, and the large unorganised sector will be left untouched

Minimum wage hike no bonanza for workers

Workers at a construction get what contractors pay, not what the government orders. (Photo: Getty)

Delhi Government recently announced an increase in the minimum wage for workers in the capital. Applicable from 1 October, the wage hike would increase the monthly income of an unskilled worker to Rs 16,792 per month.

On 12 October, Deputy Chief Minister and Minister of Finance Manish Sisodia stated that this is a significant step made in the interest of the working class amid rising prices. In all planned employment under the authority of the Delhi Government, Sisodia continued, this action will assist unskilled, semi-skilled, skilled, and other people.

This order will bring the much-needed counter to inflation for the clerical and managerial workforce in the face of rising prices of essential consumer goods. However, there is no mechanism for checking what contractors and employers in the unorganised sector pay their workers. It is up to the workers themselves to demand the increased wage,

Sisodia also mentioned that when compared to other states, Delhi has the highest minimum wages. The Delhi Government regularly adjusts the Dearness Allowance every six months to give all workers in Delhi relief from inflation.

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This promise by the government to provide relief from inflation is, however, partial. It is true that the minimum wages have been increased but the difference between the earlier and the newer wage is just a few hundred rupees per month.
The raise is somewhere near an amount of Rs 286 in the case of unskilled workers. Rs 312 for semi-skilled, Rs 338 for skilled, Rs 312 for non-matriculation, Rs 338 for non-graduates and Rs390 for graduate workers.

The decision was welcomed by the workers, as the Delhi government has been constantly increasing the minimum wage at regular six-month intervals, but the hike this time is much lower than expected.

Ram Babu, working as a sweeper with the PWD, informed Patriot that the reality differs from the announcements. “What happens with a mere hike of Rs 200-300? With the continuous increase in prices, rent and travelling costs, an increase of Rs 200-300 is not a relief but a mental pressure that you are unable to save anything despite an increase in your salary”, he added.

Ajodhya Prasad, a contractual labourer working along with Ram Babu was not impressed with this announcement. “We are unsure about our jobs and here you are talking about an increase in salary? This is all for the permanent employees: the daily wage earners and other contractual workers are not even considered in the database. We are called whenever we are needed and then left to search for other opportunities once the work is done”, he stated.

“Ye sab kagazi baat hai bhaiya asal zindagi me aesa nahi chalta (all these things are just on paper, while it is its exact opposite in reality)”, concluded Ajodhya.

Domestic workers

Considering the prevalence of gender-based discrimination and the sexist nature of society, the situation has been much worse for females working in domestic capacities.
“It is important to remember that we are paid by the house-owners and not by the government and their decision has nothing to do with us and our salaries”, stated Shameema, who works as a house help in Delhi’s Jamia Nagar area.

She told Patriot that when she got to know about this announcement, she was indifferent. “There are several such announcements made by the government, but they are much of a dream for us, and it is better to let go of such dreams as soon as possible”, she stated.

Babban, who works as a cook in Delhi’s Wazirabad, heard about this decision for the first time when she was approached by Patriot. “This is the very first time that I am hearing that the minimum wage for an unskilled worker is around Rs 16,000 a month. I have been working as a cook for the past 8 years, and I am not earning anything close to it. I charge Rs 3,000 per month for cooking two meals a day in three different households. With the additional work and everything, I manage to earn around Rs 10,000 a month”, states Babban.

“No one would even employ me at Rs 3,000 if I go around asking for more”, she concludes.

Unjust pay-scales

Tyohari Lal, who has just started work as a watchman in Lajpat Nagar, told Patriot that he has agreed upon a salary of Rs 11,000 a month for night duty, but the employer has deducted Rs 1,000 for his absence on Sundays. “I was not even informed about this earlier. They never told me that I am supposed to work on Sundays as well”, states Tyohari.

“If I ask them for a salary somewhere near the minimum wage proposed by the Delhi government, I’ll lose the present job as well”, he guesses.
Tactless authorities

When a senior official at the Delhi Labour Welfare Board was asked about the frustration of workers in the unorganised sector, he informed Patriot that this order is just for the scheduled employees of the Delhi Government.

“The number of workers in Delhi keeps on changing, and it is impossible to keep a record of all the workers and labourers in the National Capital Territory”, he answered under the condition of anonymity. He asked Patriot to approach the Planning Department of the Government of Delhi.

The Planning Department has recently released the report of the Economic Survey of Delhi for the year 2021-22. The data, however, belongs to the year 2011-12 in their report.

No questions were entertained by the Planning Department regarding the above-mentioned issues, neither on nor off the record.

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Ali Fraz Rezvi covers heritage, history, literature and current social issues for the Patriot.