People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 15

April 20, 2008


                                                                Withdraw Anti-Worker Amendment To NREGA

The ministry of rural development has issued a notification amending Schedule 1 of the NREGA increasing the work day to nine hours. CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and MP, Brinda Karat, has written the following letter in protest to union rural development minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh.

THIS is in reference to the notification from the ministry of rural development dated January 14, 2008 amending Section 8 in Schedule 1 of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. I am sure that most MPs are unaware of this amendment since it is yet to be tabled in parliament. If implemented in its present form it will have adverse implications on the basic rights of workers.

The original Section 8 read “The schedule of rates of wages for unskilled labourers shall be so fixed that a person working for seven hours would normally earn a wage equal to the wage rate.”

This has been amended thus:

8.1 The schedule rate of wages for various unskilled labourers shall be so fixed that an adult person working for nine hours would normally earn a wage equal to the wage rate.

8.2 The working days of an adult worker shall be so arranged that inclusive of intervals of rest, if any, it shall not spread over twelve hours on any working day.”

The seven hours work day mentioned in the original Schedule was on the understanding of an eight hour day with a one hour break, thus seven hours of working. If there was any misunderstanding or misinterpretation on this score a clarification would have sufficed. But the amendment further compounds the injustice through an additional Section 8.2 that includes the words “rest, if any” in other words a nine-hour day (8.1) with no guaranteed rest time (8.2).

I am aware that the 1950 amendment of the Minimum Wages Act 1948, Section 24.1 (a) defines a working day for an adult as “nine hours.” 24.1 (b) defines work hours for a child as 4 ½ hours. Just as the hours of work for a child are no longer valid as child labour has been abolished, so also the nine-hour work day for adults has long ago been replaced by an eight hour work day which includes a break. It is strange that the ministry should dig out an outdated amendment to bring in a clause which will harm the interests of workers. Moreover the government is a signatory to the ILO which clearly mentions the eight hour day with a break as the norm. The present amendment to Schedule 1 is thus a clear violation of the ILO Convention.

You will kindly recall that I have repeatedly raised the issue of schedule of rates (SORs) with you and shown through examples of worksites personally studied that workers are not able to earn the minimum wage because of impossibly high productivity norms in many states. Now, instead of reducing the workload to make it more reasonable, the work hours have been increased. This is clearly unacceptable and makes a travesty of NREGA which is designed to bring relief to unemployed rural workers and not to use them as a source of cheap labour.

I request you to withdraw the amendment regarding the nine-hour working day. If any clarification for “working for seven hours” is required, it may be done by adding the words “working for seven hours excluding the break period” or alternatively it could be “eight hour working including the lunch hour break.”