Government taken to task for Undermining Minimum Wages for MGNREGA Workers In a consultation on minimum wages organized by the

Bandhua Mukti Morcha in collaboration with the Planning Commission and NMML, there was overwhelming consensus on the sanctity of Minimum Wages. Speakers included Justice Shah, Aruna Roy, Harsh Mander, Sitaram Yechury, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Harish Rawat, Jayati Ghosh, B.D. Sharma, D Raja, Swami Agnivesh, and Prashant Bhushan. Justice Shah established that repeated Supreme Court judgments elevated the statutory right of Minimum wages to the status of Constitutional and fundamental rights. Therefore Minimum Wages are inviolable. He also made it clear that the notification of the MoRD freezing the MGNREGA wage rate, and the recent decision of the Central Government to delink MGNREGA wages from the provisions of the minimum wages act was in his opinion clearly unconstitutional. Professor Jayati Ghosh demolished the economic argument advanced by much of the government for undermining minimum wages that high wages were leading to unviable labour costs for farmers, and other enterprises. However while labour cost has gone up marginally, the real squeeze for the farmer was the rising input cost (seeds, fertilizer, diesel) – prices of which are very much in control by the government. Further the marginal rise in labour costs has been eclipsed by the growth in GDP. She asserted that this fallacious argument is then indicative of the skewed development attitude of the government, which favours profit-led capital growth as opposed to wage-led growth. Montek Singh from the Planning Commission stated only that the government must abide by the law, and interpretation of law must finally rest with the Courts. However he declined to comment on the continuing contempt of court by the Government of India in the Andhra High Court. From the left parties, Mr. Sitaram Yechury and D. Raja reasserted and assured the participants of the support of their parties both within and outside Parliament, to ensure that minimum wages would not be undermined. They said that they would campaign for the interests of the workers, and the sanctity of Minimum Wages. Swami Agnivesh said that the current minimum wage policy was irrational and a scientific and rational basis must be defined. Union Minister of State for Labour Mr Harish Rawat said that the Labour upholds the sanctity of Minimum Wages as also stated to in their note to the NAC, and all the suggestions for strengthening labour laws, including the Minimum Wages Act will be taken up by the Ministry. The speakers for the opening plenary tomorrow are Justice Verma, Mohan Gopal, Jean Dreze, KB Saxena, Sushila, Annie Raja Medha Patkar, and a case study on Bonded Labour.