We are worth more. The placard showed the anger in all-caps bold as thousands of people stomped down the boulevards of central Delhi on September 5 shouting slogans and waving red flags for labour rights—most importantly, better wages, a right denied for ages. Among the marchers were landless farm labourers, rallying to a Left-organised event that reprised a common concern for the poorly paid working class population.
Such rallies are not uncommon in India, although it is among the first developing nations to have introduced a minimum wage policy. Yet, the Minimum Wages Act of 1948 has failed in its implementation. The prime reason is that labour laws are on the Concurrent List, meaning minimum wage rates are determined by both the Centre and states, each fixing their own policies independently. And hence, wage disparities between neighbouring states as well as for federal projects are common. Take Maharashtra, for instance. Despite being an industrialised state, it offers one of the lowest minimum wages—lower than Kerala, Haryana or Delhi. Bihar, UP and West Bengal are equally bad in implementing its own minimum wage rules.