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Labour under stress: Gujarat's lag in wages vis-a-vis all-India grows over the years, says fresh study

Counterview Desk
A just-prepared research paper “Labour Under Stress in Gujarat?” by Atulan Guha of the Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA) has noted that huge investments in Gujarat's industrial sector, leading to a high growth rate of the state economy, has failed to translate into “higher wage earnings in Gujarat relative to the rest of India.” Basing on the National Sample Survey Organisation's 2011-12 data, the senior scholar says, the all-India wage rates of urban casual workers were 1.18 times higher, and of regular salaried urban workers 1.41 times higher, than Gujarat.
Worse, the scholar's calculations suggest, the gap between urban workers’ daily wages in Gujarat and all-India has been growing over the years. Thus, between 2007-08 and 2011-12 the urban workers' “all-India daily average wage of casual workers multiplied to 1.13 times that of Gujarat.” As for the female urban workers, in 2007-08, the all-India ... average daily wage, which was 1.07 times that of Gujarat, “rose by 1.25 times by 2011-12.” The scholar finds a similar increase in the gap involving regular urban daily wages for both males and females between 2007-08 and 2011-12.
Apprehending criticism that “this gap between all-India and Gujarat wages exists due to the different sets of prices exposed to the workers”, the scholar says, “The broad trends observed in the wage-gap between Gujarat and the all-India average do not change much, as the all-India consumer price index (CPI) for industrial workers is only 3.56 per cent higher than that of the CPI for industrial workers in Gujarat in 2011-12. In 2007-08, this figure was 3.04 per cent.”
Calling the situation “interesting” for a state considered highly industrialized with an “entrepreneurial and industry-friendly policy framework”, the scholar says, “The industry contributed 37% GSDP to the state in 2011-12, whereas industries all over the country contributed 27% to India’s GDP..” Further, “compared to all the Indian states, Gujarat’s contribution in total manufacturing GSDP increased from about 11% in 1993-94 to 14% in 2011-12.” Also, “registered manufacturing evinced a steeper rise- from about 11% to 16%.”
In fact, according to the scholar, between 2007-08 and 2011-12, Gujarat’s contribution to India’s GDP in all three sectors of the economy rose – in the agriculture and allied sector it rose from 6.6 per cent to 7 per cent, in industry from 11 per cent to 12.3 per cent, and in services from 5.9 per cent to 6 per cent. But this high rate has failed to translate “to augmented wages relative to the rest of urban India”, he emphasises.
He says, “the incremental manufacturing output” is mostly because of “a single industry – petroleum refining – with its share in gross value added in the state’s registered manufacturing having risen from 4% in 2000-01 to nearly 25% a decade later”, the scholar says, adding, “This is because of the output from only two refineries – the shore-based refineries of Reliance and Essar in Jamnagar.” The petroleum refining sector, as represented by Reliance and Essar, are known to be highly capital intensive, relying on modern automation technology.
A major reason the scholar seeks to suggest for low wages in Gujarat is poor bargaining power of Gujarat workers. While regretting that no authentic data is on this score is not available, he says, a look at the website of the Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangha (BMS) – “the trade union of the RSS and hence a sister organization of BJP, the ruling party of the state for last 15 years” – shows that only 2.54% of its members come from Gujarat.”
Based on on this, the scholar surmises that among India’s large states, Gujarat’s trade union membership strength would rank 13th, which only goes to reveal “how the workers of Gujarat are so little organized.” He adds, “Organizational paucity hampers the workers’ ability to fight for a greater share in the output growth or value addition.”
In fact, the scholar regrets, the workers’ issues are “barely heard in the state’s dominant political discourse” and “this could be the reason for the major political parties’ paltry efforts towards organizing workers.”
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