Most of the agricultural workers are unaware of the minimum wages pertaining to the work they are doing.
Illiteracy was the prime reason for the workers not knowing that there was a Minimum Wages Act which protected them from exploitation, according to a study conducted by L.E.V. Bharathi who was awarded a Ph.D on the subject “Minimum Wages Act 1948 and its implementation’’ (A socio-legal study on agriculture workers in Coastal Andhra Region) by Berhampur University.
Ms. Bharathi conducted her study mainly in Guntur and Prakasam districts and found out that almost all agriculture workers were not aware that there was a Minimum Wages Act and that they should be paid minimum wages in accordance with it.
The workers did not even know that Labour Department officers should ensure that minimum wages are paid on a daily basis. The workers were being paid once in a week or ten days. The workers had no idea whether labour officials were visiting the places they work, Ms. Bharathi said. She said out of the 335 women workers and 265 male workers she interviewed, none knew about the Minimum Wages Act.
She was not even allowed to gather data about the implementation of the Minimum Wages Act in some villages by ‘village elders,’ Ms. Bharathi said.
Workers were becoming debt-ridden because of denial of minimum wages.
Ms. Bharathi said while industrial workers were being paid minimum wages, agricultural workers were not being paid the same for several reasons. While the industrial worker was paid in cash, the agricultural worker was often paid in kind. There was significant disparity between the genders and wages fluctuated widely with seasonal demand, she explained.
Yet another reason was the wide variation in operations. The Minimum Wage Schedule II did not include operations like flower picking weeding, seeding and sewing of leaves.
Ms. Bharathi said that the Minimum Wages Act was incomplete with reference to agricultural workers as any dispute between the employer and employee should be resolved by the government as per the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act.
At the end of the thesis, Ms. Bharathi suggested that steps be taken to address the disparities. The minimum wage for flower picking, weeding, harvesting of maize, processing crops like chilli, tobacco which are risky to workers, should be fixed. The benefits of the Act should be conveyed to the workers through campaigns, she said.
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