Demands in brief

Increase minimum wages and peg it to inflation

Demand to register the NREGA Workers' Union

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) 2005 guarantees each rural individual who applies for work, 100 days of employment (per family) at the minimum wage. However, in January 2009, the Central Government froze wages under this Act at Rs. 100 per day. As a result, NREGA wages are now less than the minimum wage and have fallen in nominal terms due to inflation. The average wage in Rajasthan is now only Rs. 75. The many irregularities in the implementation of this act is clearly highlighted in one of the most recent examples in the state where 99 workers in Tonk district of Rajasthan were paid one rupee a day for eleven days of work.

By paying less than the minimum wage under the very Act meant to provide employment to the poorest workers of the country, the Government is blatantly violating the fundamental right to life and livelihood of the poor workers. It is also undermining the only protection the unorganized sector workers have had since independence, being duly upheld by the Supreme Court of the country since 30 years.

The Supreme Court, in three separate rulings, has maintained that non payment of the minimum wages is tantamount to ‘forced labour’ prohibited under Article 23 of the Constitution. The notification itself has been set aside as unconstitutional by the AP High Court and the Additional Solicitor General, Government of India. The Central Government’s response to this has been only to establish a committee i.e the Pronob Sen Committee (for the second time) to review the issue. The state governments have said that they will only pay MGNREGA workers what the Center gives under them under the wage component. On 4 October, the Government of Rajasthan announced an increase of 35% in minimum wages, but it did not extend the same to MGNREGA workers. Between the Central and state governments, the workers have lost out not only on an immediate wage entitlement but also a vital constitutional protection.

To highlight the immediate crisis affecting the minimum wages and other irregularities in MGNREGA, S. R. Abhiyan in Rajasthan organized a Mazdoor Haq Yatra from September 15, 2010 – October 1, 2010 and since then is on an indefinite dharna (Mazdoor Satyagraha) near the Statue Circle in Jaipur. The demands of the dharna are as follows:

  1. Central government must respect the sanctity of minimum wages and thus must remove the freeze on wages to pay the minimum wage
  2. State Government must immediately increase minimum wages to Rs. 200 per day
  3. Central and State Government must link the minimum wage to the Dearness Allowance Index meant for government workers
  4. If wages are to be paid as per work completed, then a piece rate-time rate system must be established, wherein work done is measured individually, and the average wage earned is approximately equal to the minimum wage (by allowing the fast/efficient worker to earn more, if penalizing the slow worker)
  5. As per the NREGA, payment of wages must be made within 15 days, failing which compensation must be paid to the worker. This provision is routinely flouted and hence stringent mechanisms to ensure its adherence must be implemented
  6. NREGA is meant for worker welfare and is not a largesse for civil servants and politicians. Thus full transparency and accountability for money spent under the Act is imperative
  7. The government must establish an Accountability Commission wherein government workers must be held to the same exacting standards demanded of the MGNREGA worker, by defining work for each employee and levying penalties for work not done
  8. Increase the right of employment days per family from 100 to 200
  9. The right to unionize is a constitutional right. However, the Rajasthan Government has denied the registration of NREGA workers as a union on various questionable precepts. Similar unions have been registered in Punjab, Gujarat and Kerala. Thus the state government must immediately register NREGA worker unions
  10. The government must ensure work for everyone, just wages for full work, and pension in old age for NREGA workers

Flexes made for the yatra and satyagraha. These illustrate the arguments for the demands were are making.

Some myths about the MGNREGA.

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