Labour Investigation Committee (1946)||
The wages and earnings data discussed in this Chapter must be allowed to speak for themselves. Briefly, an analysis of the data shows that both wages and earnings have been considerably affected by conditions created by the War. The subject can best be discussed under two main headings: first the present wage level in important industries, including other elements of income such as the dearness and other allowances, and secondly, the future wage policy in the light of existing wage standards and in the context of the new ideas in regard to the future of labour all over the world.
It is clear that so far as the basic wage level is concerned, it has undergone little or no change in most organised industries. For instance, in the cotton mill industry, certain increases were granted in the basic wages in the year 1938 in all the centres in the Bombay Province and in Cawnpore, although it must be remembered that during the year 1934 there were drastic reductions in many centres of the industry. The jute mill industry gave a rise of 10 per cent. in 1939. Among other large employers of labour such as the railways, there has been a levelling-down instead of a levelling-up in the basic wage rates since 1931. As regards plantations in Assam, the average cash earnings of workers are lower than those which "prevailed during the investigations of the Royal Commission. On the other hand, in un-organised industries or in industries which developed with remarkable rapidity during the war, e.g., glass, engineering (some centres), potteries, etc., the basic wage level has gone up appreciably, sometimes by more than 100 per cent. Due to shortage of unskilled labour in certain parts of the country, labour also could not be attracted to work without a substantial rise in the wage level. This has happened in those sections of industry in which a considerable proportion on unskilled workers has to be employed, e.g., in Cement C. P. W. D., etc. Contract labour employed in certain industries including the building trades, was perhaps for the first time in its history able to bargain for and secure much better wages than ever before and in some cases higher than those employed directly by the concerns. was, however, a temporary phenomenon.
Unlike certain countries, e.g., the United Kingdom and the United States, wage increases in India have taken the form of the payment of a cash dearness allowance and/or provision of foodstuffs to the workers either at pre-war rates or at 1942 rates. In the principal industries and centres of industries, either concerted action in this matter has been taken by the employers' organisations, or such action has resulted, because of the awards of adjudicators or independent tribunals like the Industrial Court of Bombay. This has been a considerable step forward as compared
to what happened during World War I, when wages were allowed lag to lag behind prices for considerable time with much consequent suffering and distress1. In most of the important centres of the cotton mill industry, dearness allowance has been linked with the available cost of living, index numbers and where such index numbers were not available e.g., in Indore,, the employers have based it on the average of index numbers for centres situated in the vicinity. The scale of dearness allowance paid has been the highest in Ahmedabad where workers have been compensated to the full extent of the rise in the cost of living.2 On the other hand, in Bombay City, workers have been given an allowance equivalent to about 76 per cent. of the increase in the cost of living. Speaking generally in the cotton industry workers have received a much better deal than those employed in similar industries such as jute. Moreover, the example of the cotton industry has influenced wages in some important centres, notably in Bombay and U. P., where other organised industries had to follow its footsteps by the sheer logic of circumstances. A notable example is provided by the jute industry in Cawnpore, which pays dearness allowance nearly three times of that paid in Bengal.
In the jute industry in Bengal and South India, apart from the 10 per cent. wage increase granted in 1939, the workers are being compensated for the increase in the cost of living by an allowance known as amenity allowance at a flat rate of Rs. 2 per week. In addition, however, jute mill workers receive a subsidy on account of the supply of foodstuffs to the extent of about Rs. 1-2-0 per week. In the Engineering industry, there is no uniformity of practice in regard to reimbursing the workers for the increase in the cost of living while in some centres wage rates have gone, up, in others a cash a dearness allowance on a fairly liberal scale has been granted. In plantations, our examination of the-wages and earnings data shows that the position has been the least satisfactory, because no dearness allowance as such is given in Assam while in the Bengal and South India plantations a cash dearness allowance of an anna or so per day is granted. In Assam, the increase in the cost of living is being met by giving foodstuffs at a concessional rate the money value of which comes to about Rs. 5-8-0 per month or about 50 per cent. of the monthly cash earnings. In transport industries, the largest single category is of Railway workers. The scale of dearness allowance has been altered from time to time and the latest position is that on State Railways the non-Gazetted staff getting below Rs. 40 receive a dearness allowance of 17 per cent. of their pay subject to a minimum of between Rs. 12 and Rs. 19 according to the zones in which they work while those whole pay is above Rs. 40 or above get at the same rate, subject to a minimum of between Rs. 14 and Rs. 20. In addition, railway workers get certain commodities of daily consumption at August 1942 prices, the cash value of the benefit being stated to amount to from about Rs. 6 to Rs. 10/8 per month.
In regard to the payment of dearness allowance, there is one healthy principle which is being followed in most cases, namely, that the allowance is paid at a flat rate irrespective of income or on a regressive scale. This has resulted in the low-paid categories of workers securing a much larger.
F.N. See article in the Indian Labour Gazette (April 1944) entitled "prices and wages in Bombay City during two World Wars". See also Dr. A. L. Bowley's articles, "Prices and Wages in three years of War" in the Royal Economic Society's Memorandum No. 92 [November, 1942]
Now, since August 1945 dearness allowance is paid at the rate of 76%.
quantum of relief than high-paid workers. We may illustrate the point with a few examples. A doffer boy in a Bombay Cotton Mill gets a basic minimum wage of Rs. 16/4 but receives by way of dearness allowance nearly Rs. 30 per month. Similarly, a doffer in Ahmedabad has a basic minimum wage of about Rs. 20, but received at one time a dearness allowance amounting to about Rs. 70 p.m. Again, on the Railways, a gang-man in Bombay who receives a basic wage of between Rs. 18 to Rs. 23 obtained relief to the extent of about Rs. 25 for meeting the increased cost of living.
We may now briefly and in a broad manner review the position in regard to real wages. We have already found that the cost of living in the country has gone up by about 150 per cent. as compared to the pre-war period and that the variation in the changes as between centre and centre has been considerable. For instance, while the available information shows that the rise in the cost of living in Madras has been about 100 per cent., that in Bengal and Assam has been more than 200 per cent. In certain industries, in which dearness allowance has been related to the cost of living index numbers, the lower-paid categories of operatives have, in some cases, been able to get relief greater than that warranted by the increase in the cost of living. Not in all industries or in all centres of industries, however, have dearness allowances been commensurate with the increase in the cost of living. Taking a bird's eye view of the real wage position in the country as a whole, it appears that the lowest-paid unskilled workers have not suffered very much owing to the rise in the cost of living. In certain groups of organised industries, such as jute, plantations, mining (excepting one or two sections), the real wage of the worker has definitely declined. Likewise, in the case of the relatively better paid workers, such as semi-skilled and skilled workers, the earnings have generally lagged behind prices, except in certain cases where wage rates have also been increased. In this connection, it is pertinent to note that the above analysis takes no note of the sacrifices entailed upon the community owing to war time conditions, such as unavailability and scarcity of commodities of daily consumption, transport difficulties, etc. At the same time, we must make prominent mention of the fact that owing to the zeal and energy displayed by Governments and employers alike in procuring the necessities of life for the workers, they were in some cases better off than the general community in this respect and were saved especially in Bengal from the terrors of the famine of 1943. While on this subject, though we may refer to the fact that the War no doubt created much fuller employment than before and to that extent probably benefited the industrial classes as a whole, we have no adequate information to enter into a detailed analysis of the subject of family earnings. However, we may point out that fuller employment helping family earnings is a fortuitous circumstance which is extraneous to wage policy.
Future Policy.—It is understood that the Central Government have under contemplation a legislative measure for fixing minimum wages for workers in important trades and industries in this country. The large mass of wage data which we have collected during the course of our investigations seems clearly to show that irrespective of war-time conditions, the basic wage levels are extremely low. We are of the familiar argument that industrial wages compare favourably with those paid to agricultural workers. We need not enter into the merits of this argument except to point out that industrial workers live and work under conditions of greater severity and hardship than agricultural labourers.
F.N. 24- 2 Lab./ 56
Further, the industrial wage level instead of following the agricultural level should give lead to it. It must be remembered that the employed worker in agriculture is subject to much less discipline and enjoys certain "net advantages of labour" such as a lower cost of living, free fuel, fresh air, etc. That agricultural wages are low, is, therefore, no argument for keeping industrial wages low as well. Secondly, in the new factory constructions in the different industries and in most of the new industries which have recently sprung up, India has naturally utilized the latest discoveries in regard to the technical efficiency of the plants. The wage structure and wage policy, if any, however, continue to remain unscientific. There is little standardisation of occupational nomenclature or of wages in the different industries, or even in units in the same centre of an industry. Nor has much consideration been given to determining the differentials in the wage rates as between various occupations in an industry. This, however, does not mean that there are not a few notable exceptions, because in recent years a few associations of employers and individual concerns have made considerable progress in this matter. But taking industrial labour in India, as a whole, expediency and the desire to maintain the status quo ante and to think in terms of short-term gain, seem to be the guiding principles, if they can be so called. Such a lack of scientific attitude in the fixation of wages must, in the long run, prove detrimental no less to industries than to labour, especially when the present sheltered position of some of our industries becomes exposed to the attack of both internal and external competition. We consider that this is a matter which deserves early and careful attention.