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"Model" Gujarat agricultural wages one of the lowest in India, gender gap is market driven: Union ministry report

Source: Labour Bureau, Shimla
By Rajiv Shah
A top Government of India document has said that, in “model” Gujarat, the real wages of both male and female agricultural workers in 2016-17 were worse than most major Indian states. At Rs 223 per day, Gujarat’s male agricultural wages were lower than all but three of 15 major Indian states; and for females agricultural workers, Rs 202, they were worse than all but five of 15 major Indian states.
The document, “Report of the Committee on Alignment of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) Wages with Minimum Agricultural Wages: July 2017”, released by the Ministry of Rural Development, quotes the Labour Bureau, Shimla, based on the data obtained during July-May 2016-17.
While Gujarat's agricultural wages for both male and female workers is are lower than those in Bihar, Assam and West Bengal, the highest per day agricultural wages during the year were being paid in Kerala, Rs 661 for males and Rs 494 for females. The all-India average of the real agricultural wages for males was Rs 270, and Rs 210 for females, much higher than those prevailing in Gujarat.
Interesting though it may seem, the main reason for the document to provide separate agricultural wages for and females in major 15 states is to justify its argument in favour of NREGA wage rates, which it insisted cannot be on par those stipulated under the Minimum Wages Act, 1948. Pointing towards the gap between male and female agricultural wages despite the existence of the Minimum Wages Act, the document says, “The minimum agricultural wages, though notified by the state governments, are hard to enforce especially in the case of women workers.”
Against this backdrop, the document insists, “On the other hand, the wages under NREGA, paid by the states, are enforced and enforceable, and no discrimination exists between male and female worker wage rate.” But on the other, as opposed this, “the market reality of agricultural wages” is such that “wage rates for female workers at all-India level were 78% of the male workers.”
Source: Labour Bureau, Shimla
“In some states, like Tamil Nadu, women workers earn just over half of male workers’ wages. In Karnataka and Kerala, women workers received only 65.22% and 73.56% of the male workers’ wages”, the document says in order to “support” its argument why the Minimum Wages Act is not enforceable for NREGA workers.
Strongly disapproving such an approach, which in fact is one of many (click HERE to read), well-known advocacy group, NREGA Sangharsh Morcha, the apex body of tens of organizations fighting for implementing minimum wages for NREGA workers, argues, has characterized it as “the most incomprehensible and unconstitutional justification.”
“The committee seems to imply that in so far as both women and men workers receive the same wages under NREGA, this justifies a wage rate lower than the agricultural minimum wage”, the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha says.
The Morcha argues, “Economically unviable wages are likely to lead to a significant reduction in the viability of NREGA as a law and programme.”
It adds, “Given the demand-driven nature of the employment guarantee programme, this may be the actual intention of the government by fixing abysmally low wages as it will allow it to keep the expenditure on NREGA more or less constant in money terms but reduce it in real terms.”
“However”, the Morcha continues in a statement, “It is quite likely that this will result in illegal contractualisation of NREGA works, and the large-scale fudging of records in order to hire workers at market wages, and cope and “adjust” their wages to the sub minimum wages on paper.”

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