Trade Unions Warm Up To Living Wages

Trade Unions Warm Up To Living Wages

A Living Wage Study for Assam tea garden workers was commissioned in the year 2020 and the full report was release in July 2021. The report was shared with representatives from Trade Unions, companies, workers, youth groups and women federations. The report was appreciated as this was for the first time that a discourse on living wages for tea plantation workers was being highlighted in India.

During the course of this discussion, representatives from the trade unions of Assam—members of the minimum wage advisory body constituted by the state government—expressed their interest in the report. They will use our wage calculations for furthering their negotiations on wages with the State Government. Until now the trade unions from Assam have been rallying for INR 351 as wages; this was calculated in 2018. Now, considering the changes in both external and internal environment, the unions, too, feel that it is imperative to revise the wage for negotiating with the Government. Also in play is the fact that almost four years have transpired and the parameters for calculating the old wage cannot be relevant anymore.

With this backdrop, various other representatives of Assam trade unions, who are also members of All India Plantation Workers’ Federation  (AIPWF)—a national federation of workers’ representatives for plantation industry—for the first time have initiated the discussions around Living Wages. The unions from Assam that are members of AIPWF have now moved on from just demanding ‘Minimum Wages’ for tea workers across the tea producing states to demanding ‘Living Wages’ for leading a decent standard of living.

Read Report In Defense of Living Wages for Tea Plantation Workers Here

The Living Wages Report states that the average family income per month of the tea workers in the study sample is INR 4,774; without making any deductions and average expenditure on food consumption is INR 1,854 and non-food expenditure is INR 3,895 per person per month. The average deduction by the employer is INR 778 (there are significant variations across tea estates) so their in-hand income is INR 3,996 per month. The workers are entitled to get INR 167 per day which is inclusive of both the cash and non-cash benefits, but they actually receive INR 160-180 per day as observed in our sample.

According to the estimates of this study, for workers to have a dignified life, the compensation in the form of living wages shall include INR 285 per day as expenditure on food items (including 4 units of consumption) and INR 599 per day as expenditure on non-food items, both essential and non-essential utilities. Therefore, the living wage for a worker should be INR 884 per day for a decent living standard in the tea plantation sector. Our proposed living wage is 81% higher than the actual wages workers receive and 54% higher than the National Minimum Wage suggested by Anoop Satpathy Committee (2019).

The definition of wages is the same under the Plantation Labour Act,1951 and the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 which outlines that wages should be in cash and not kind. However, the Code on Wages (2020) allows the employer to pay a part of the wages or remuneration in kind (not exceeding 15% of the total wages payable) such as for accommodation, ration and any social security and this will further aggravate the problems of the plantation workers. This is the reason and right time to shift the debate from ‘Minimum Wages’ to ‘Living Wages’ for the workers.

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