Labourer’s dilemmaThe increase in the minimum wage will make only a slight difference, if at all
The government’s decision to increase the monthly minimum wage for labourers to Rs13,450 starting from this fiscal year has received mixed reactions from the concerned stakeholders. The Employers’ Council and industrialists didn’t agree to the workers’ demand to increase the wage to a minimum of Rs16,000 per month. Tea estate labourers will not get a raise next month, perhaps due to the poor negotiation skills of union leaders.
Previously, the minimum wage for labourers in all sectors was Rs9,700 per month. This increase of nearly 39 percent in two years seems to be high compared to the annual increase in the salaries of other workers. Labourers are the backbone of the industrial system. They form the largest section of the workforce, but oftentimes they are paid the lowest. It is in the interest of industrialists to keep their workers happy as this will help to increase production and ensure that there is no stoppage.
The Physical Infrastructure and Transport Minister Raghubir Mahaseth’s assurance that under-performing and non-performing contractors will not be arrested and his unwillingness to completely eliminate syndicates in the transportation sector along with the Prime Minister’s support for opening new medical colleges in Kathmandu is clear evidence of this government’s admiration for crony capitalists. Perhaps it is too early to say that the government has done little to narrow the salary gap between workers and management. The government’s inaction in this regard will further increase the gap between the rich and the poor.
Unless the labourers are paid through the banking system which will ease the inspection process, (the government is working on it) they will always be unsure whether they are being paid the minimum wage as fixed. An inspection conducted by the Minimum Wage Fixation Committee has revealed that media houses have been paying less than the fixed amount to their employees in contravention of the agreement made between them.
One can defend the industrialists’ stand as the inflation rate last year was only 4.5 percent while salaries have gone up by 39 percent in the last two years. The challenge is to feed one’s family with the salary. Regarding the question whether the increment will make any difference, perhaps labourers from industrial areas in Balaju, Biratnagar or Butwal can answer that question.