ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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The wage rates for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) workers for 2019–20, notified on 30 March 2019, have again exposed the central government’s lack of commitment to MGNREGA workers’ rights. The hike ranges from a meagre `1 to a “majestic” `17 for various states and union territories. And, workers of six states and union territories will have to be content with no hike at all. Workers of poor states like Jhar­khand and Bihar, who did not get a hike last year, are lucky that they will get an increase of `3 and `2, respectively. The average increase in MGNREGA wage rates across the country is a measly 2.6%.

For 33 states and union territories, the MGNREGA wage rate is less than the corresponding minimum wage for agriculture, condemning workers to another year of bonded labour. The difference is the greatest in Goa, where the MGNREGA wage rate is only 62% of the state minimum wage for agriculture. This ratio is in the range of 60%–70% for a number of poor states such as Telangana and Odisha.

At a time when the country is going through one of the worst employment crises in decades, this meagre hike in MGNREGA wages is nothing less than a much-touted “surgical strike” on the poor. Unemployment is at a historical high. The poor are still recovering from demonetisation in 2016 that crippled the informal economy, which led to job-loss for millions across the country. It is ironical that while the government tom-toms about the spectacular economic growth in the last five years, rural wages have remained stagnant in the same period.

Despite recommendations from government-appointed committees to link MGNREGA wages with state minimum wages (by the Mahendra Dev Committee) and to index the wage rate to Consumer Price Index–Rural Labourers (CPI–RL) instead of Consumer Price ­Index–Agricultural Labourers (CPI–AL) (by the Nagesh Singh Committee), the government did not even implement these meagre recommendations.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld minimum wages as a fundamental right and equated payment of anything less as “forced labour.” Unremunerative MGNREGA wages, coupled with long delays in wage payments—even non-payment of wages in many cases—has turned many rural workers away from the employment guarantee programme.

In the last few years, workers took to the streets several times to demand an increase in wage rates. Jharkhand’s workers even returned the meagre hike of `5 (in 2016–17) and `1 (in 2017–18) to the Prime Minister to wake him up to their reality. Amidst the political brouhaha of the Mukhyamantri Krishi Aashirwad Yojana and minimum income guarantee programme, it is nothing less than a joke that the government is not able to ensure even minimum wages to workers.

The NREGA Sangharsh Morcha strongly condemns this anti-workers decision and demands an increase in the MGNREGA wage rate to `600 a day. This follows the Seventh Pay Commission recommen­dation of `18,000 as the minimum monthly salary.

NREGA Sangharsh Morcha

Updated On : 5th Apr, 2019


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