New Delhi: Facing protests from workers over minimum wage and allied benefits, the labour ministry is reaching out to all the key ministries, including Railways, to disclose their staff strength, especially that of contract workers, to make a fair assessment of minimum wages currently paid.
The central labour commission has been meeting authorities from ministries and departments with bigger staff pools to prepare a factual report on the number of contract workers and their service conditions.
While the move will allow the government to prepare a minimum wage plan as part of a broader wage code it is formulating, it may also help in it dealing with a possible uproar during the winter session of Parliament which is likely to take place some time in December.
Last week, the chief labour commissioner met top officials of the Railway Board. Subsequently on 17 November, the Board wrote to the personnel department and other public sector undertakings under its jurisdiction, asking them to furnish a five-point factual report on terms of employment of contract workers.
The information sought includes whether or not the new rate of minimum wages w.e.f. 1 April is being paid to contract workers, the mode of payment to contract workers, provident fund deduction, salary slips and coverage under employees state insurance scheme or ESI. Functioning under the labour ministry, ESI provides healthcare facilities to over 32 million industrial workers.
“The payment of minimum wages to workers employed on Railways under various provisions of the Contract Labour Act 1970 has become a pivotal issue in the present economic scenario," said the Railway Board’s circular, a copy of which has been reviewed by Mint.
A labour ministry official, who declined to be named, said that when social security including PF and ESI was mandated for even construction workers, contract workers in the government set up should not be left out. “But for effecting social security to all these workers, one must start with whether the minimum wage rules are being followed or not," the official added.
“There have been several complaints by worker unions and individuals stating that they are not being given pay scales and other benefits as promised by the government. Besides, there are several discrepancies where payments are being made by cash and payslips are not being issued," another government official said.
Virjesh Upadhyay, general secretary of Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, said when a private party flouts rules, you have provision to prosecute it, but the irony is several central government ministries are flouting the contract labour rules. “The central government employs tens of thousands of contract workers. Who will correct the government?" Upadhyay said.
There are three kinds of contractual appointments made by government departments. First, for work of a routine nature such as housekeeping, maintenance and data entry that are bundled and entrusted to staffing agencies. Second, contractual appointments for select posts, particularly those that need high professional skills and the third category is hiring on contractual basis retired government employees whose skills and expertise acquired during their tenure in government is found to be useful. However, there is no unanimity among ministries over the use of contract workers.
Although the exact number of contract workers employed in the central government is not known, according to Seventh Pay Commission data the Union government is one of the biggest users of temporary staff or contractual workers and spends around Rs300 crore a year on wages of such workers. This is just a fraction of what the government spends on regular employees—which amounts to Rs129,599 crore in salaries.