In Meghalaya issues that concern workers’ rights is completely missing from public discourse. There is absence of a workers movement comprising skilled and unskilled labors even though employment issues and working condition is a burning question that affects one and all. More than 50 % of the population in the state consists of young people who are searching for some kind of gainful/meaningful employment. While government jobs are hard to come by, those that are vacant are few and far between. In such circumstances many job seekers have no option but to work wherever they can. In most cases they are employed as casual or temporary workers in different organization and departments. There is no job security or even assurance of security particularly when the nature of employment is contractual. Surprisingly contractual and project based jobs abound everywhere. Unfortunately those who managed to get employed even if temporary are done through a patronage system which is established through personal affinity with those in power or management.
The Chief Minister has initiated creative programmes and schemes to address problems of unemployment such as the Meghalaya Livelihood Basic Scheme and Skill development missions. These initiatives however served no purpose because of the huge corruption and nepotism which have blighted these projects. Moreover skill development is futile if there is no subsistence wages which corresponds to the skills for those willing to start out on their own through business ventures and others.
The time to address these peoples issues have come. It is imperative to push the question on decent work and living wages at the policy level to address and arrest the problems that job seekers routinely face particularly those with no political connection. The present system is self defeating and destructive and may lead to further problems in the society. We can only change it if we all come together to challenge it. There has to be complete transparency in government recruitments and we must ensure that exploitation in the private and corporate sector ends.
The private sector has benefited immensely from the liberalization policies from 1991. In the process the labour market has been de-regulated in favor of the corporate interest. While their profits grew resulting in hikes in pay packages and salaries for those at the top, wages of the working class have failed to keep up with rising cost and inflation. There is no interest among the corporate bodies to concede some part of the gain to the working class. Real wages have come down drastically. There are no benefits nor is there provision for amenities in contractual agreements. While the labor market and participation of the labour force is growing, their working condition measured through wages and others have not. Majority have been working below the subsistence wages. In fact minimum wages may not be enough for maintaining decent living standard with cutbacks and downsizing of social services and safety nets by the Central and state government.
In a democratic set up the right to fair wages and decent living is part of human rights. In fact a higher minimum wage is fundamental in achieving civil and human rights. There is a movement on linking fair and just remuneration to a dignified living standard around the world. This is opportunity to remind the political class to respect the workers right to fair living and just compensation. Every working adult has the following rights:
- Right to full employment: All people have the right to meaningful employment. Labor laws and policies should accompany provision for dignified work, sustainable livelihood with decent payment.
- Right to fair treatment at the workplace including living wages: Workers rights include the right to just and favourable conditions, days off, 8 hour days, non-discrimination and living wages for them and their families
- Social protection rights: This includes safe working conditions, adequate free time and rest, access to benefits like healthcare, pension, and parental leave, among many others.
- Right to dialogue and negotiation at the workplace: Workers should be able to exercise workplace democracy through their unions and negotiate their workplace conditions by establishing norms stipulated in national and international labour and development policies.
It is worth mentioning that these demands are within the realm of the constitution which has stipulated suitable legislative measures to be formulated by the state to protect the interest of all workers whether agricultural or industrial or otherwise, ensure favorable working conditions, a living wage necessary for decent standard of life, proper utilization of leisure and social and cultural opportunities.
These rights are inalienable rights and it is necessary to create awareness for the workers to secure their rights. With this being the primary objective of the campaign we invite and call upon anyone who share our concern to support the work campaign for the fulfillment of the demands which are as follows
- Minimum wages in both rural and urban areas to be revised annually and indexed to the state inflation rates. Government to commit in making minimum wages to be in line with living wage which allows a family to live in dignity. The Supreme Court also has on various occasions amplified the need for payment of minimum wages by stating that the minimum wage “sets the lowest limit below which the wages cannot be allowed to sink in all humanity”; that it has to be paid irrespective of the kind of enterprise, the extent of profits and financial condition of the enterprise; or the availability of workmen at lower wages; that non-payment of minimum wages amounts to “forced labour” under Article 23, and that employers have no right to conduct their enterprise if they cannot pay their employees a minimum subsistence wage.
- Living Wage is a wage that can support a family to live in dignity. A living wage should be calculated on the costs of a basket of goods that would include sufficient calories for a family (using the local dietary habits) and a similar amount for non-food costs including housing, and clothing, energy and material goods. Living wages should accommodate the interest of multiple forms of family structure, the reality of care work that women often provide for children, extended family and other dependents ( TUR has taken the liberty to come up with a baskets of goods which is calorie based and appended along herewith).
- A maximum of 8 hours work per day.
- No forced overtime work.
- All jobs should have a written contract, which must outline the nature of work, work load, wages, casual and medical leave, arbitration procedure etc. These contracts cannot violate existing laws about worker’s rights, which include right to form unions.
- Equal Pay for Equal Work – Article 23 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 debars all types of distinctions and classifications and clearly asserts that ‘everyone without any discrimination has the right to equal pay for equal work’.
- Extra Pay for Extra Work. Any work beyond the eight hour work day or work which is outside the permissible work load outlined in the contract should be paid accordingly. Equal benefits to contract workers comparable to those paid to regular workers and cannot in any case be lower than statutory levels of payment of PF, ESI and Gratuity.
- Social security measures like Medical Insurance, Provident fund to be strictly implemented by the employers.
- Regularise all ‘honorarium workers’ like Anganwadi employed by state and local government immediately.
- State Reservation Policy to apply all private sector units, public private partnerships, consultancies etc.
- All workers in Meghalaya whether indigenous or those coming from outside the state enjoy all the provision of human rights. Workers rights are part of ensuring respect for human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration especially for migrant workers who contribute to the economic well being of the state. They constantly live in fear of stolen wages, physical violence and unsafe working conditions. Every worker needs safe working environment and anyone or any organisation violating their rights needs to be penalized.
- After completion of 240 days of continuous or aggregate employment contract workers in perennial employment are to be made tenured workers.
- An independent institution/tribunal to penalize those violating labour laws in time bound and accessible manner.
- Contractors convicted for basic labour law violations, including non- payment of minimum wages, should be debarred from all government contracts and their licenses revoked.
- Equal pay for equal work for women workers.
- Extend provisions under the Maternity Benefit Act to all women workers employed in establishments falling under the Factories Act and the Shop and Establishment Act and honorary and contract workers employed in the delivery of government programmes.
- Strict implementation of sexual harassment laws in all workplaces (private and government) and setting up of independent committees for sexual harassment complaints.
- Strict implementation of the reservation policy for persons with disabilities.
At another level this campaign endures to address concerns arising around government recruitments which often than not are found to be fraud with corruption and deep seated nepotism. This assume more significance since job seekers still favour government jobs since there are no benefits and other form of security arrangement in the private sector. However to secure a government job in Meghalaya it is assumed one must know certain political connection or offer bribes to the authority concerned. We therefore seek the following demand:
- All jobs in govt. sector including those in govt. projects, missions, public private partnership to be filled through a public advertisement, free and fair procedure.
- All exams held by Government of Meghalaya should ensure fairness through:
- a) Time bound advertisement, examination, results and appointments;
- b) all the answer scripts, model answers to be put in Public domain; and
- c) all interviews to be videographed and uploaded in public domain.
- An independent statutory commission to be set up to formulate law to ensure and enforce that govt. jobs are filled with fair, just and accessible procedures and guaranteeing every jobseeker a right to a transparent exam system including public disclosure of all the answer scripts, video recording of all the personal interviews.
- A public audit of the workings of MPSC.
- All public funded institutions to strictly adhere to existing labour laws including Minimum Wages Act etc.
- No ad hoc/backdoor appointments, and those officer’s/person concern who involve in such act should be penalized, and must bear/refund all expenses of such appointments.
- There should be no re-employment of retired government servants in any public funded projects, missions, or public-private partnerships so as to harness fresh talent and ensure that there is no conflict of interests.