According to Central Panel, Minimum Wages in MGNREGA Will Increase Gender Inequality

New Delhi: The central panel for the revision of wages under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), which had said that there is no need to revise wages under the scheme to match minimum wages, has now justified this decision by talking about the gender discrimination in the implementation of minimum wages.

According to the Indian Express, the Ministry of Rural Development panel has said that no state has managed to ensure that women agricultural labourers receive the full minimum wage. They have reportedly quoted the national average, which says women get only 78% of the minimum wages paid to men. Meanwhile, MGNREGA wages “are enforced and enforceable and no discrimination exists between male and female worker wage rate as opposed to the market reality of agricultural wages where wage rates for female workers at all India level were 78% of the male workers”.

In their report to minister Narendra Tomar, the panel had said that “there is no compelling argument for convergence of minimum wages for agricultural labour and wages notified for NREGA workers”.

Minimum wages for agricultural workers are fixed by states, while MGNREGA wages are set by the Centre. The two were last brought to an equal level in 2009, but have diverged widely since. The same panel had found in July that MGNREGA wages are lower than the minimum agricultural wages in 17 states and union territories. The Indian Express reported then that an additional Rs 4,500 crore was needed in the Budget to equate the wages.

Using Labour Bureau statistics, the panel has argued that minimum wages are implemented unfairly and so should not be used as a benchmark. The reports takes the case of states including Tamil Nadu (where women get just over half the minimum wage men do), Karnataka (where women get 65% of a man’s minimum wage) and Kerala (at 73%) to argue that this is not a good idea, Indian Express reported.

“Today, women account for 56% of the MGNREGA workers. Unlike minimum wages, under MGNREGA, equal wages are paid to both men and women,” an official told Indian Express.

Those working on the ground, however, have said that this logic makes no sense and is just a way to deny workers a higher wage. “The fact that under the MGNREGA, both men and women are paid the same pittance is not a justification for non-payment of minimum wages. Since the MGNREGA is a statutory employment guarantee scheme, it is all the more important that it should be a viable option for economic security of rural labour. The government knows that it cannot do away with the MGNREGA, which is why it is finding ways to undermine the programme,” Ankita Aggarwal, who works in Jharkhand as part of the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha, told Indian Express.

“It seems to make that case not only for the NREGA wages but also for agricultural wages. This is a very strange argument. There is nothing scientific about holding wages constant in real terms. Rather, it is a denial of workers’ claim to a share of the country’s growing prosperity,” economist and activist Jean Drèze added.

[ 11/09/2017]