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Workers, Trade Union cry Foul Over Only 10% Increase in Minimum Wage in Unorganised Sector

West Bengal's minimum wage rate, which has been kept at a low level in the last 11 years, is a leading cause of the outmigration of daily wage labourers from the state.
Workers, Trade Union cry Foul Over Only 10% Increase in Minimum Wage in Unorganised Sector

Image Courtesy: The Indian Express

Kolkata: Soukat Mollah (32), an unskilled worker from the Murshidabad district of West Bengal, does construction work in a residential complex in Garia, Kolkata . He gets Rs 377 per day after working for over 12 hours. When he heard from Newsclick that the state government has only increased his wage rate by 10%, he spat on the ground and said that in the last 11 years, the minimum wage has not been increased by the Mamata Banerjee government, and now, this increase is a slap on the face of over crores of unorganised sector workers in the state.

Most of the friends of Mollah have travelled to other states like Kerala where they are paid wages to the tune of over Rs 700 per day.

Amar Ganguly (47), a contract worker with the Kolkata Municipal Corporation's health department, is paid wages as a semi-skilled worker and gets Rs 404 per day for the 23-day work that he gets in a month. He receives Rs 9,292 per month, with which he has to maintain his livelihood, which is an arduous task according to him. Loan sharks are always after him as he rarely manages to meet his expenses at the grocery shop without taking a loan. He said that even his salary does not come on time and often gets delayed to the end of the month.

Ganguly works at ward no. 4 of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC), and there are 620 other field workers like him who toil in the field for health-related work like mosquito repellant spraying and allied work under the health department of KMC. However, they are paid a minuscule amount of what a regular worker gets, he said. The KMC worker also laughed when he heard that there has been only a 10% rise in the semi-skilled workers' wage rate and said that the state government is sticking to the 10% formulae after 11 years without an increase in the wage rate.

The Minimum Wage Advisory Committee met on June 30 at the new secretariat building of the West Bengal government and decided in the presence of Chamber of Commerce representatives and Trade Union representatives to increase the wage rate by 10%. CITU, INTUC and AITUC were against this minimum wage increase and gave a dissenting note to the proposal. Only the ruling Trinamool Congress's trade union supported the committee's decision.

This is for the first time after coming to power in the state that the minimum wage of an average unorganised sector worker has been increased, that too at a time when the minimum wage in other states is 40% to 90% more than what is paid in West Bengal. Notably, the wage rate, which has been kept at a lower level in the last 11 years, is also a leading cause of the outmigration of daily wage labourers from the state.

Debanjan Chakraborty, the CITU representative present in the bargaining meeting, condemned the attitude of the state government to cheat the unorganised sector workers and said that when all the Central Trade Unions of the country are demanding Rs 26,000 as minimum wage in the country, the hairline increase tantamounts to "cheating" on the part of West Bengal government. It can be recalled that with this announcement, West Bengal became a state with the lowest wage rate amongst the bigger states in the country.

With this order, in the A zones of the state (urbanised and industrial zones), the monthly remuneration of an unskilled worker is Rs 9,608, a semi-skilled worker will be paid Rs 10,569, a skilled worker Rs 11,626 and a specialised worker Rs 12,789. In the B zones (agrarian and rural zones), an unskilled worker will be paid at the rate of Rs 8,286, a semi-skilled worker Rs 9,200, and a skilled worker will get Rs 10,027 and a specialised worker will get Rs 11,030.

In Karnataka, an unskilled worker's wage is Rs 12,101; in Delhi, it is Rs 16,506, and in Kerala, an unskilled worker's wage is Rs 22,360 .

Presenting these facts before the committee, the CITU demanded a 25% increase in the wage rate. However, the concerned labour minister and the representatives of the various Chambers of Commerce and Industries said that a hike of more than 10% could be given under no circumstances.

CITU has also demanded to erase the B zone concept in the wage deciding formula in the state and asked for the same wage rate across the state.

In this meeting, it was also decided to have an enhanced wage rate for the contract workers in the electricity sector separate from the construction workers. About one lakh workers in the electricity sector will benefit from this decision. The wage rate for the medical and sales representatives will also vary from these declared wage rates, which recognises the Federation of Medical and Sales Representatives of India (FMRAI )'s demand in this regard.

While fixing the wage rate, the West Bengal government has not considered the Supreme Court recommended formula for arriving at the minimum wage rate, which includes house rent allowance, entertainment expenses, medical allowance, food allowance, and considering a certain level of calorie intake of the workers and his family members.

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