For unorganised or informal workers, who constitute 92% of the workers in Gujarat, there are some labour laws that are not comprehensive in their coverage of job and social security for the workers but at least cover some aspects of their working conditions. These are : Minimum Wages Act, Contract Workers Act, Inter-State Migrant Workers Act, Child Labour Act, etc.
The Government of Gujarat is one of the few state governments in India to set up the Unorganized Workers Board for unorganized/informal workers in the state. This Board was set up in 2007 to protect the interests of workers employed in non-agricultural units in the state. It covers more than 30 lakh workers employed in a variety of unorganized ventures in the state. The main task of the Board is to help workers in accessing schemes related to health including check-up in camps, skill development, tool kit assistance, etc.
Once again, Gujarat is one of the first states in India to set up a separate Rural Labour Commisionerate in 1981 to take various measures “to improve the conditions of unorganized rural labour and to protect them against exploitation and malpractices of their employers”. A Rural Workers Welfare Board was set up under the Commisionerate to carry out activities like enforcement of labour laws, implementation of welfare schemes and promotion of organizations of rural workers.
Since insecure unorganized workers are less likely to complain about non-payment of minimum wages or violation of labour laws, official inspection is the only hope for them to ensure enforcement of the laws. A Central Government committee had recommended in 1980 that 1 labour officer is needed for 10,000 workers and 100 inspections should be conducted per month. What is the ground reality?
- For enforcing the Minimum Wages Act, covering about 140 lakh workers [85-90 lakhs in rural areas and 35-40 lakhs in urban areas], the number of inspections conducted under was 12,398 in 2008 (14,901 in 2006 and 18,430 in 2004), as against the required number of 4.20 lakhs (one-thirtieth of what is required)! In 2008, the numbers of prosecutions initiated was 2,633 and the number of beneficiaries was 9,227 in the same year.
- Similarly, the number of inspections made under the Contract Workers Act (5,629 in 2008) was grossly inadequate. The number of prosecutions launched under the act was 351 and the total number of beneficiaries was 11,201.
- As regards the Child Labour Act and related rules, 10,242 inspections were made, 235 prosecutions were launched and 31 cases were disposed of in 2008. This is for a state where 21% of children in the 7 – 14 age group (numbering about 35,500 in just 882 villages of 4 districts only) do not go to school because they work in cotton picking, sugarcane cutting, animal husbandry, salt industry, rag picking, incense stick making, garment making, bidi rolling, etc.
- The Inter-State Migrant Workers Act is important because Gujarat attracts a large number of workers from not only neighbouring states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra but also distant states such as Bihar, Orissa, U.P., Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, etc. In 2008, 428 inspections were made under the act, no prosecution was launched and no convictions were made. The number of prosecutions was 9 in 2002, 10 in 2005, 3 in 2007, 21 in 2007 and 0 in 2008. The number of inspections conducted under the Equal Remuneration was 1,186 in 2009, and 563 prosecutions were launched while 6 cases were disposed of.
- The ground reality about the welfare activities of the Unorganised Workers Board : So far, 26,000 workers are registered under the Board. In all, Rs 27.7 lakhs were spent on 3,247 workers (Rs 853 per worker) in 2008-09 and Rs 29.7 lakhs were spent on 7,408 workers in 2009-10 (Rs. 401 per worker). Can this be called making even a miniscule impact?
- There are 26 districts and 225 blocks and about 85 lakh agricultural workers in the state. The labour officers in place are less than one-eighth of the recommended number. The Rural Workers Welfare Board has 359 Rural Workers Welfare Centers spread over the state, each headed by an honorary (not full-time) worker (45 centres do not have a head at present). The total number of inspections made was 84,610 in 2009-10 (it was 91,921 in 2008-09), which is a tiny fraction of the required number. In all, 46 prosecutions were made in the case of agriculture and 104 prosecutions were made for other rural workers. The prevalent average daily wages rate of Rs 68 for casual workers in Gujarat, as against the legal Rs 100 per day, clearly indicates large scale violation of the Minimum Wages Act.
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