Royal Commission on Labour in India: Report(1929)||
We turn now to the most direct method of raising the standard of living, namely, the raising of the earnings of the worker. It is necessary here to deal with a preliminary objection which was put before us on more than one occasion and has even found its way into official reports. It is urged, and apparently believed by not a few employers, that the worker has a fixed standard at which he aims, and that, when he has earned enough to maintain that standard, he ceases to make any further effort. This view is frequently coupled with the belief that the worker has already attained the standard he desires. If this were true, an increase in wage rates would do more harm than good, for it would diminish production without benefiting the worker financially. On this view, it is only by getting the worker to spend his money more wisely that any advance is possible. In dealing with a great and varied mass of workers, it is rash to say that such a doctrine is true in respect of none of them. Every nation can produce men who are satisfied with the barest needs and will make no further effort after these are supplied. It must also be admitted that ambition is not particularly vigorous with many Indian workers; we return to the causes of this later. But it is not difficult to show that the doctrine is not, true of the great bulk of Indian industrial labour, for it is contradicted by the facts. If it were true, it would be impossible to raise the workers' standard of living except by coercion; yet there is no doubt that it has in fact risen appreciably in recent years. Reference has been made to the lack of cost of living index numbers, but there is ample evidence to show that the level of real wages, particularly in the more organised industries, is now appreciably higher than it was ten years ago. Few, even of those who hold the belief mentioned, would deny this. The evidence of unprejudiced observers regarding improvement in the general standard of living and the increase in the level of real wages show that the workers' earnings have risen, i.e., that the idea of any general fixed standard is fallacious. What is both true and largely responsible for this mistaken judgment is that a sudden accretion of income is seldom wisely spent; the worker cannot raise his standard of living overnight. Further, as the standard of comfort is improved, there is an intelligible and reasonable tendency to secure some increase in leisure at the expense of part of the possible increase in income. We can appreciate the preference of the worker for some remission of toil.
In our view, therefore, employers need not be deterred from raising wages by any fear that they will be injuring the workers thereby. Indeed, there have been times in most industries when valuable results could have been secured by a more liberal policy in respect of wages. Many workers are employed on low wage standards, and it is still too generally assumed that poorly-paid labour is cheap. Many who are aware that this is not the case are reluctant to act on their own belief that better-paid labour will prove cheaper. As some employers have shown, better results from the business point of view can frequently be obtained by the payment of better wages, and it is impossible to expect any high standard of efficiency on the wages now paid in many branches of industry. Nor is it reasonable invariably to demand that the increase of efficiency should be a condition precedent to improved wages. In many cases, if employers were to offer better payment first, they would be able to secure improved efficiency by the attraction of a better class of worker and by the increased effort of many of the present ones.
We do not desire to imply that, with his existing standard of efficiency, the worker has always obtained in the past a fair share of the results of industrial enterprise or that he always does so now; but so long as his organisation is as weak as it is to-day, there will remain a danger of his failing to secure a just share of the results of industry. Suggestions have been made from time to time that the difficulty might be met by the general adoption of profit sharing schemes, but this movement has made practically no progress in India and, in the present stage of industrial development, such schemes are unlikely to prove either useful or effective. Efficiency or production bonuses, however, are in a different category. These are in operation in several establishments and are a direct incentive to increased effort. There is scope for considerable extension of these methods of payment in industry.
We have been discussing methods of increasing earnings which involve the raising of the wages bill, but it is important to observe that in many cases the level of earnings of industrial workers as a class can be substantially raised without extra cost to the employer. There is a widespread tendency to look too exclusively at what the employer is required to pay for work, i.e., at wages, and too little at what the worker gets for it, i.e., at earnings. Even when wage rates cannot be raised, it is often possible to raise the standard of living by increasing earnings. The most obvious method is to increase the regularity of employment. In many branches of Indian industry, poverty is aggravated by the retention of far more workers than are required. One of the worst examples is shipping. The coalfields provide another striking instance, and in the factories cases are numerous where excessive turnover results in swelling the number of employees among whom the work has to be divided.
In previous chapters we have made recommendations designed to improve matters in this respect in various branches of industry. But we would again press the importance of substituting, as far as possible, the regular for the irregular worker, and employers can do much in this direction. It may be urged that, if wage rates are not raised, the only effect is to enrich some workers whilst preventing others from entering industrial employment, with no resultant benefit. This, however, is a short-sighted view. Even if the surplus workers that the factories now attract to the city could find nothing to do in their villages, they would still be better there, where they are in healthier surroundings and can be supported at less expense. It has always to be remembered that the villages offer at least sporadic work to all. The reduction of the numbers in the industrial centres would ease the problems of housing, sanitation, medical attention and health generally. Finally, there is the increased efficiency which the regular and better-paid workers would attain with benefit to themselves, to their employers and to the nation.