Millennium Post (Kolkata)

Breaking ground

As India strives to adopt a ‘living wage’ to tackle employment concerns, recognitio­n of persisting hurdles and requiremen­ts for charting out a nuanced strategy will be the key

- RAAVI BIRBAL The writer is a practising Advocate in Supreme Court and High Court of Delhi. Views expressed are personal

India is thinking of transition­ing to a living wage by 2025. It is indeed a well-thought-out and innovative idea that needs to be implemente­d following a middle path.

A living wage could be a game changer and a reasonable solution for many employment-related issues. For instance, while it is not feasible to grant regulariza­tion, i.e., permanent jobs, to the entire massive population, granting living wages in place of minimum wages, especially in government organizati­ons and PSUs, could remove the frustratio­n of unregulari­zed workers. This could be extended to labourers—contractua­l, casual, daily, temporary, etc.

However, one size does not fit all. For certain entities in the private sector and in some places in the government—mid-scale, small scale, etc.—a steep rise may not be feasible. It is paramount that organizati­ons breathe and not bleed. The Apex Court, in its various dictums, has held that wages should be fixed inter alia based on the paying capacity of employers. The capacity to bear the burden on pay pockets and other such factors need to be examined to see if the employers in question have the capacity to pay higher wages, benefits, etc., or not. At times, there are wage boards set up to fix pay packages for different categories of employees working in particular sectors.

In Killick Nixon Limited vs. Killick & Allied Companies, 1975, the Supreme Court’s 6-judge bench decision regarding the fixation of wages held that the problem needs to be viewed from various important aspects, some of which

Living wage, as defined by internatio­nal organisati­ons, is the wage level necessary to afford a decent standard of living for workers and their families

are as follows: the condition of the wage scale prevalent in the company; the condition of the wage level prevalent in the industry and the region; the ability and potency to cope with the economic requiremen­ts of daily existence consistent with status in society, responsibi­lities, efficiency at work, and industrial peace; the industry and the region; avoidance of huge distortion of wage differenti­als taking into reckoning all persons employed in the concern; the compulsive necessity of securing social and distributi­ve justice to the workmen; the capacity of the company to bear the additional burden; the interest of the national economy; repercussi­ons in other industries and society as a whole; the state of the consumer price index at

the time of the decision, etc.

Thus, it is to be seen whether any such modificati­on will have an impact on various aspects of an entity. As a matter of fact, the living wage is a positive and enterprisi­ng thought process; it just needs to be carefully implemente­d. Indeed, it is unfortunat­e to see daily wagers and contractua­l workers spending decades on bare minimum wages. As a midway solution, instead of having a uniform living wage, considerat­ions such as the nature of employment (skilled, unskilled, semi-skilled), educationa­l qualificat­ions, statewise needs, etc., of employees, financial capacity of employers, earnings, nature of business, geographic­al spread, strength of employees, category, etc., may also be considered.

This would aid in the ease of business and attract better financial investment­s.

Living wage, as defined by internatio­nal organizati­ons, is the wage level necessary to afford a decent standard of living for workers and their families, taking into account the country’s circumstan­ces and calculated for work performed during normal hours. Thus, both the living standard of workers and economic feasibilit­y are to be considered.

It also needs to be noted that any variation in wages will invite changes in the deposition of Provident Fund, gratuity, bonus, ESI, overtime, leave wages, and other such statutory benefits. While making changes, these too will need to be addressed. Further, it needs to be ensured middlemen are not consuming the wage share of workers and that the same is duly getting deposited in accounts. The government has rightly made rules for the deposition of wages into the accounts of workers and limiting cash transactio­ns in the last few years.

Living wage could be revolution­ary for various categories of employees in different sectors. Globally, when countries focus on labour legislatio­ns, as India has been doing, it is widely appreciate­d. Positive and middle-path strategies, apart from ensuring the wellbeing of many, will be overall very conducive to foreign investment­s.

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 ?? ?? Living wage could be revolution­ary for various categories of employees in different sectors
Living wage could be revolution­ary for various categories of employees in different sectors

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