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As The Govt Proposes To Hike Minimum Wage, This Is What It Means For India’s Labour Force

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By Vaagisha Das

As a result of wage differences, violent clashes at the country’s biggest carmaker Maruti Suzuki India Ltd led to the death of one company executive. This is just one example of many that demonstrate unrest among the labour force on the basis of wages. In such times, the government’s proposal of hiking the minimum wages of the workers comes as welcome news. In addition to a 25% hike in minimum wages, the proposal seeks to enforce the minimum wage law in all states rather than making it optional, unlike the previous laws. States are divided into tiers according to their per capita income, and workers – unskilled, semi-skilled, and skilled – are to be paid accordingly. All the states would have mandated labour hours and wages, yet, things would stay much the same for those working in the unorganised sector, as only a handful of states include domestic workers in minimum wage laws- surprisingly, Delhi not being one of them.

ConstructionLABOUR-India
Implications Of The Proposed Amendment: How It Would Benefit The Workers

The Minimum Wages Act of India, 1948 legally grants a minimum wage for workers in many industries and periodically fixes minimum wage for those workers employed in activities listed in the “employment schedule” of the government. This could be both at the state and at the central level, i.e. both the central and state governments can initiate, implement and share responsibility with regard to labour laws. The proposed revision of the wages would mean amending the aforementioned law in order to fix ceilings. An increase in the minimum wage would benefit the poor, since the living wage in India is greater than the minimum wage; hence a hike could go a long way in improving the living standards of the economically weak.

The proposed amendment would also benefit workers if applied uniformly across the states. It could ensure better conditions of employment as well as provide a safeguard so that agricultural labourers do not feel the need to switch jobs or migrate during off seasons, as many of them are wont to do. If imposed, a minimum wage would also prevent employers from laying off labourers for those who are willing to work for lower costs.

Concerns Regarding The New Law

In lieu of minimum wage being increased in other sectors, there have been concerns that raising the minimum wage may draw labour away from farming, and lead to a manpower shortage in agriculture. But the probability of this happening seems small, as this sector has weathered the impact of the jobs-guarantee scheme, which assures 100 days of work to at least one member of every poor rural household.

Another legitimate worry would be the gradual substitution of workers with limited skills with those who are marginally better suited for the job. This would cause unemployment to skyrocket among the older workers as well as those who lack experience- employers would seek to employ more efficient labour for the same wage. However, workers unions are expected to step into place in order to prevent such hasty layoffs.

Unaffected By Hikes In Minimum Wages, The Plight Of Domestic Workers Remains The Same

I have told my family I work in a factory. They look down upon domestic work,says Khushboo, a domestic worker from Nalanda district in Bihar. However, respect from family members doesn’t even come close to topping the list of grievances that domestic workers like her face. The proposed law is applicable to both informal and informal sectors as long as the activity belongs to the employment schedule list- but domestic work does not fall into either of these categories.

The definition of paid domestic work across the states is not rooted in the employment relationship which governs this sector but in the societal understanding of domestic work as a non-technical and unskilled operation. The employment relationship is often undeclared and has no written contract involved; there is an unequal balance of power between employer and employee, and a lack of precise job description. Furthermore, the workers are expected to be available at all times. These workers may include minority groups who are easily vulnerable to exploitation, who would ensure that their wages are duly paid according to pre-set standards?

A Glimmer Of Hope

In this instance, one of the most important interventions has been the inclusion of domestic workers in the list of scheduled employment under the Minimum Wages Act of 1948 in a few states of India. Such a legal extension recognizes private households as workplaces making it an important legal change in the concerned states. There are a total of seven states where the minimum wages for domestic workers has been implemented; of which Karnataka was the first, followed by Bihar and Andhra Pradesh. This raises hope that this not so beaten track may be followed by others as well, so that we can claim better employment benefits uniformly for all the sections of the community.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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