The government’s effort to dissuade 10 central trade unions (CTUs) from going ahead with the September 2 strike did not succeed on Monday as the minimum wage advisory board (MWAB) meeting remained inconclusive.
A fixed minimum wage between Rs 15,000 and Rs 18,000 per month has been on top of the CTUs’ 12-point charter of demands. A positive outcome of the MWAB meeting, which was preponed from the earlier scheduled on September 6, could have saved the government from the embarrassing labour stir.
With the meeting failing to reach a consensus, RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), which unlike 10 other CTUs is yet to give their strike call, may also join the stir. This would make it the biggest-ever labour strike since the new government under Narendra Modi assumed office in May, 2014.
Talking to FE earlier in the day, BMS general secretary Virjesh Upadhyay said the trade union would take part in the strike if the government gives orders and not just written assurances on majority of their 12-point charter of demands that includes a minimum wage of Rs 15,000 per month.
At its three-day Kendriya Karya Samiti (KKS) meeting in Bhopal earlier this month, BMS had resolved to declare the strike on September 2, but left the onus of taking the final call on its president B N Rai and Upadhyay.
Currently, minimum wage for an unskilled worker in the central sector is Rs 211 per day or Rs 5,486 a month.
FE had earlier reported that the government has proposed a steep 60-95% hike in the minimum wages for its contract/temporary workers in 45 scheduled employment categories, ranging from agriculture to construction and mining, to Rs 9,150 per month. The minimum wage in a state is fixed by the state only.
AITUC national secretary D L Sachdeva, who attended the MWAB meeting, said the unions demanded that there should be uniformity in the minimum wage across the country for all workers — be it domestic help or the industry worker, and the amount should not be less than the monthly starting pay of Rs 18,000 for the central government staff as per the 7th Pay Commission.
“We have demanded that a national minimum wage should be fixed below which no state will fix the minimum wages. Developed states can fix higher wages than the national minimum wage. The strike call stands,” he added.
Another official who was present during the meeting, said employers’ representatives also agreed to the idea that the minimum wages should be hiked, but there was resistance from their side on making it as high as Rs 15,000 since that will cost them dearly.
A government official said on the condition of anonymity that the central government does not have the legislative power to fix the minimum wage for a state since labour is in the concurrent list. The proposed monthly minimum wage of Rs 9,150 for an unskilled farm worker in Class C areas (as against Rs 211 now) has been arrived at after taking into account his four-member family’s energy need for 2,700 k cal a day as well as clothes, fuel, power, educational, medical and rental expenses, the official added.
Meanwhile, though CTUs ruled out postponing the strike, they were expecting some favourable outcome from the meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya late on Monday.