National Commission on Labour (1967)||
28.27 When the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 was taken up for implementation, the Government came under pressure for making arrangements for its enforcement, particularly in agricultural employment. This was about the time when the formal process of planning was initiated in the country. The planners got the issue examined by a Committee headed by the then Economic and Statistical Adviser to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. The Committee's recommendation, which was accepted by the Government, required the application of the Act to certain areas which were considered to be established low wage pockets and to farms above a particular size. Though the application of the Act was subsequently extended, there are still some States which have not brought large tracts of agricultural employment within the ambit of the Act.
agriculture have not been revised over long periods for either the agricultural season as a whole or for different operations. Almost everywhere the actual wages rule higher than the minimum during the peak season and tend to fall in slack seasons. The machinery for enforcement is much too inadequate to cope with the task of effective implementation. The institution of proceedings under the Act is almost negligible. The total number of successful prosecutions is even more disappointing. Other difficulties in implementation arise mainly from poverty and illiteracy of agricultural labour, and from such structural constraints as the scattered nature of agricultural farms, casual nature of employment, and the unorganised character of agricultural labour. Our studies further reveal that awareness of the existence of this legislation and of the protection it can offer is also wanting among large sections of agricultural labour. It is only in recent years when agriculture has become prosperous in certain areas that labour has acquired consciousness of its rights. In these areas, however, the ruling rates are so high that enforcement of the statutory minimum becomes meaningless. The real difficulty is in regions away from urban or developmental influence; and there are several of these in every State.
28.29 It is difficult to understand the relative trends of agricultural and non-agricultural wages over the period covered by our enquiry. Firstly, the data on agricultural wages are not as extensive as for industrial labour. Secondly, in the case of the former, the earnings of the family rather than wage rates assume significance, and these can be estimated on the basis of the two ALEs and the RLE; for intermediate years, no organised information exists, whereas in the case of organised industry, annual information is tabulated by various agencies. On the assumption that the average number of earners in the rural labour households has not altered between 1956 and 1963—and this can be a safe assumption—there is evidence to show that between 1956 and 1963 the incomes of agricultural labour families increased faster than wages of workers drawing Rs. 2OO/- and less in the establishments covered by the Payment of Wages Act, 1936. This is mainly due to the fact that the average income per earner in the rural areas is increasing significantly. But the relative improvement is primarily due to the low level of rural earnings in 1956, against which the 1963 increases are "calculated.
28.30 It is against this background that we have to seek answers to the questions connected with agricultural labour. At the outset it has to be recognised that the problems are indeed complex, since employment is mostly casual, seasonal or non-regular and wages are governed to a substantial extent by non-economic elements such as tradition and caste. Wages are not always paid in money; the degree of monetisation or payment in cash varies according to the crop and has been on the increase. Both the farmer and his labour seek to choose the combination which is individually most advantageous; and where organisation has reached labour, it succeeds in getting a good bargain. By and large, however, agricultural labour is not able to employ methods which are now common to industrial labour. As pointed out in a recent report,1 there are considerable disparities in wages between regions, between different crops as well as between the wages paid to men, women or children. Although Government has attempted to fix minimum wages through legislation, its implementation has been beset with a number of difficulties which arise mainly from the basic ills of poverty and illiteracy and from such structural factors as the small and scattered nature of agricultural farms, the casual character of employment, and the dispersal of farms. Any policy for agricultural wages will have, as its components, sustained improvement in the productivity of agriculture and the ensuring of a stable and reasonably remunerative price for agricultural products.
28.31 We have heard arguments that enforcement of minimum wage legislation in agricultural operations should be stayed. The reason advanced is that at the peak of the agricultural season, labour can dictate its terms except in some really bad patches and wage rates rule above those statutorily fixed so that enforcing of minima becomes meaningless. In the slack season, on the other hand, so much labour is available that implementation of the minimum becomes impracticable. Apart from these two connected issues, the basic difficulty in enforcing any legislation in so diffused an area is also pointed out. The general rule, according to this line of argument, should be not to bring the law into disrepute by attempting its application in circumstances which are known to be difficult.
1 The Report on a Framework for Incomes and Price Policy, Reserve Bank of India, 1967, pp. 26-27.
28.32 We recognise the force of this argument. At the same time, the application of the Minimum Wages Act, howsoever defective it may be at present, will help agricultural labour. Labour may not be conscious of its tights at present except in isolated pockets, but to expect that the present position will continue is unrealistic. Notification of minimum wages under the legislation helps the evolution of 'norms' and will provide a basis for persons who propose to work in the interests of agricultural labour. The arguments advanced against the continuation of agriculture in the Schedule to the Minimum Wages Act are not that agricultural labour does' not need the protection it enjoys. All that they amount to is that there should be more effective' implementation.
28, 33 Fart of the criticism from the labour side about the ineffectiveness of the legislation is its static nature. The minimum wages fixed do not get revised for long. But this is a general malaise. We have recommended elsewhere a periodic revision of all such wages and this will also hold good for wages in agriculture.1 The Other recommendation that wages should be fixed on the advice of a tripartite committee should also be applicable in this case.2 The provisions of the Minimum Wages Act 1948. should be extended gradually, beginning with very low wage pockets to other areas. This is necessary because, though many years have passed since the enactment or the legislation, some States as mentioned earlier, have yet to extend its benefits to some sections of agricultural labour.
28.44 The existing administrative machinery has been unable to cope with the task of implementation. This would mean strengthening of field staff engaged in the enforcement of minimum wages. A way should be found to involve the village Panchayats in the task of implementation of the Act. Two objections have been voiced against this suggestion: (i) The experience of enforcement of the Shops and Establishments Act by local bodies is not very happy; the enforcement machinery of the local bodies is exposed to pressure from the elected wing in the local bodies which derives support from employers against whom the legislation is enforced. The same situation is likely to arise if Panchayats are left to deal with the implementation of the Act; (ii) Because of factions in a village which are reflected in the Panchayats, this constructive activity will be given a secondary place. We are not impressed by either or these arguments It is possible that in the early stages, when this work is entrusted to Panchayats, labour may experience difficulties; but eventually such disadvantages as there are can be balanced by having a machinery which is ready at hand. The village Panchayat is an organ of grass-root democracy, and we hope that with the passage of time, it will increasingly reflect the aspirations of the economically backward communities, and will prove to be an instrument for their uplift.
28.35 There is also need for giving wide publicity to the wages so fixed. With some measure Of literacy reaching agricultural labour, notification of wages at a public place will make the employer cautious in denying to his worker the notified wage.