Ramesh Shetty (name changed), who works as an unskilled labour in an automobile company in Chinchwad, has been making Rs 7,000 per month for the last one year, instead of the mandatory Rs 9,000. A migrant labourer, Shetty said the fear of losing his only source of income has kept him silent. “Labour leaders in the neighbouring companies have told me that I am getting lesser than I should. But I do not want to take any action, as I may end up losing my only source of income,” he said.
The Minimum Wages Act, 1948, has set the minimum amount every skilled and unskilled labourer must be paid, however, labour leaders claim that its implementation is still in a grey area. The labour commissioner can take punitive action against employers who fail to pay as per the Act. The wages are revised yearly by the state.
A labour leader claimed that, while on paper, the law was meant to protect the labour, ground reality painted a different picture. In many cases, he added, workers are either reluctant to file a complaint or they don’t know their rights.
Data from the office of the additional labour commissioner of Pune has revealed that, in the last one year, 51 cases have been filed about violation of the act. Of these, 10 have been solved, while 30 failed to be resolved. In one case, the complainant had received substantial monetary benefit. Often, workers are scared to talk about the issues they are facing, which works as a deterrent for filing of cases, an officer told Pune Newsline.
Arjun Chavan, leader of RSS-backed Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, claimed that in the industrial areas of Mulshi, Chakan, Bhosari, and Pimpri-Chinchwad, as much as 75 per cent of workers are underpaid, in violation of the Act. “Over the last few years, the composition of the labour force has completely changed. Instead of 80 per cent permanent employees, we have a labour force comprising 80 per cent contractual employees. They are at a greater risk of exploitation,” he said. He further claimed that contractors employ subversive techniques like writing the wage musters in pencils, to escape inspections and later pay the labourers less.
About the labourers’ reluctance to file a complaint, he said, “They fear that they will lose their jobs. When we meet contractors, we try to negotiate with them to ensure that they pay their employees as per the Act. Threats of legal action rarely work.”
A leader of the CPI (M)-backed labour party, Ajit Abhyankar, said a majority of workers were not paid as per the Act. He added that the recent amendments to the labour acts have inspections by labour commissioners a thing of the past. “Instead, under the guise of ease of business, principal employers are asked to self-attest the wages paid. In such a scenario, talking about labour rights is just a joke,” he said.