Royal Commission on Labour in India: Report(1929)||
Our survey of the position in Assam has convinced us that the establishment of wage-fixing machinery for the tea industry, if practicable, is desirable. It has also given us reasons for believing that, if proper methods arc adopted, a practicable scheme to this end can, in fact, be devised. We deal with the question of the desirability of establishing such machinery from the point of view first of the worker and then of the industry. Thereafter we deal with certain objections to the idea, and we go on to outline the procedure and methods which appear to us most likely to lead to a successful issue.
An important feature which emerges from the survey is the inequality of the bargaining power of the two parties to the wage agreement. As we have shown, there are powerful organisations of employers. As a rule, these have an understanding that the actual rates of wages shall not be increased without notifying their Association, a practice to which resort is seldom made. In effect this means that wage rates are determined by the joint action of the employers, influenced by the extent of the supply of labour available for employment on the plantations. The workers on their side have no effective means of meeting this owing to the absence of cohesion among them. This is due to a number of causes, among which are the fact that they are emigrants from a distant country, speaking many different languages, the universal illiteracy, the preponderance of aboriginals and the comparative isolation of plantation life. Workers in such a position stand in special need of protection. This has already been recognised by the Government of India and the Indian Legislature, who have taken an active part in securing the introduction of minimum wages for Indian workers on the tea plantations in Ceylon and Malaya. We are satisfied that the position in Assam of the emigrant from Chota Nagpur is not essentially different in this respect from that of the Tamil emigrant in Ceylon. Indeed, the contact between the recruiting districts and the districts of employment is closer in the case of Ceylon than in that of Assam. The proposals we have made in another chapter are designed to effect a considerable improvement in this direction by giving the emigrant the assurance that, after serving for a reasonable period, he will be able, if he so desires, to return to his original home. But even when this system is in operation, the average labourer will still remain in a comparatively weak position, for the right of repatriation is not applicable to existing workers and, in the case of new emigrants, will cease after the first three years;
Even those who have this right will not ordinarily be in a position to leave Assam until the time for repatriation comes. All these factors increase the danger that some of the workers may not receive, a fair wage. This danger becomes greater in times of rising prices, when the existing rates tend to be maintained longer than would be the case if the workers were effectively organised. Further, there are certain individual gardens where the workers are not assured of the rates prevailing elsewhere. The weakness of their position is greatly enhanced by the measures which the employers have been compelled to take to prevent enticement of labour. These make it difficult for a labourer who is dissatisfied with conditions on one garden to find employment on another and they go far towards eliminating competition. Another restraint on the free movement of labour is the absence of alternative employment. Some of these elements in the weakness of the workers' position will, we trust, be eliminated at no distant date; but the fundamental weakness, namely, the absence of any organisation, and therefore of any effective method of collective bargaining, is not likely to disappear at any time in the near future.