Government of India
ONEVALUATION STUDIES ON IMPLEMENTATION OF
THE MINIMUM WAGES ACT, 1948
IN BIDI MAKING ESTABLISHMENTS IN
AWARENESS ABOUT THE LABOUR LAWS
6.1.1 Bidi making is a highly labour intensive activity dominated by home workers. They are not expected to possess much knowledge about the specific provisions of various labour laws. Awareness about important provisions among the employers and the employees can bring in a lot of improvement in the implementation of the minimum wage legislation.Accordingly, during the course of the study an effort was made to collect information on prevailing wage rates, date of revision, working hours, trade unions activities, associations, sex-based wage differentials, prescribed limits for rejection of bidis, enforcement machinery, etc.The extent of awareness displayed by the employers and the employees on the relevant provisions of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948; the Bidi and Cigar Workers (Conditions of Employment) Act, 1966, and the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 is being discussed in the following paragraphs.
6.2.1 The employers were expected to have full knowledge about the provisions of various labour laws applicable to the Bidi Making Industry.During the course of survey, it was found that all the employers covered by the study were not only aware of the prescribed rates of minimum wages for different categories of employees but were also conversant with the important provisions of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948; the Beedi and Cigar Workers (Conditions of Employment) Act, 1966, and the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976.
6.2.2 The employers disclosed that the bidi making activity was dominated by female labour who were mostly engaged as Bidi Rollers and were paid on piece rate basis as wages prescribed by the Government.This was confirmed by field officers who did not come across any situation wherein female workers were engaged in any other operation.The employers were also familiar with enforcement machinery, inspection procedure, permissible limits of rejection of sub-standard bidis (Chhat) and the exemptions granted to smaller bidi manufacturers under excise laws.All the employers had taken licences in the names of Contractors engaged by them.
6.3.1 The system of getting the bidis rolled through Contractors was prevalent in all the Strata in one form or the other. It was more predominant in Stratum-I as the clusters of Bidi Rollers were widely spread over the villages in this area and the Contractors frequented these areas in large numbers to engage them. Further, the agriculture was also not dependable in this Stratum.In certain other Strata bidi industry was relying more on the purchase of un-branded green bidis from middle men even from across the State borders rather than engaging their own Contractors for enhancing their production. All the Contractors studied were familiar with the provisions of the relevant labour laws and related matter of their interest. The Contractors were registered with the establishments for whom they got the bidis rolled and collected the rolled bidis.
6.4 Bidi Workers
6.4.1 The work culture of bidi workers within the premises was similar to an organized industry.The information collected during the field study revealed that, only 25.4 percent of them were aware of the prescribed rates of minimum wages while 58.2 percent were aware of the existence of the enforcement machinery.The low proportion of awareness about prescribed wages as well as about the existence of the enforcement machinery was attributed to lack of unionisation amongst the bidi workers, prevalence of practices like assigning the jobs of checking, sorting, labelling, wrapping, etc. on contract to a team of workers and the petty establishments widely scattered in remote areas, which escaped the notice of the enforcement officers.It was also observed during the Study that the Enforcement Officers just inspected the records maintained by the Employers and perhaps did not devote time to understand the problems ofbidi workers and enquire about the wages actually paid to them. It was also observed that although the workers had proximity to both the management and the employers, yet such contacts had not at all influenced the employers in terms of better service conditions.
6.5 Bidi Rollers
6.5.1 The extent of compliance with the implementation of the prescribed minimum wages depends on the awareness about the labour laws and related matters, level of education, unionisation among the workers and the enforcement effort. The study revealed that the Bidi Rollers, mostly home workers, were lagging behind in this respect.They mostly belonged to the fair sex, who were more concerned about supplementing their family incomes without neglecting their domestic duties, rather than fighting for the prescribed wages. They were earning around Rs.36/- per day for continuous sitting of seven to eight hours. They were living in clusters, monopolised by one or two bidi manufacturers offering identical terms of employment. The study revealed that since all the Bidi Rollers were home workers they did not enjoy the advantage of a regular and close contact with their colleagues as well as proximity with the employer or his representatives.They collected the raw materials, rolled bidis with the help of their family members and deposited the finished product at the centres setup by the employers or their representatives. Most of these home workers were free to draw large quantities of raw materials from different sources and to supply higher output of bidis to them. Bidi Rollers generally lacked awareness about the laws governing their conditions of service, the wage rates prescribed by the Government and existence of the enforcement machinery.
6.5.2 During the course of the study, it was also observed that a very large number of female home workers, belonging to a particular community, accepted to work at much lower than the prescribed rates of minimum wages as they could not undertake outdoor activities due to religious and social restrictions. Sometimes it became difficult even to identify the employers for whom they had been rolling the bidis because they were ordinarily reluctant to talk to the enforcement officers and divulge the facts about their employment and earnings. They were, therefore, highly vulnerable to exploitation by the Contractors, middlemen and agents dominating the bidi industry in different parts of the country.
6.5.3 The information collected reveals that home workers alone constituted 73.5 percent of the total number of employees in bidi making establishments. The proportion of helping dependants of the home workers in rolling bidis worked out to about 106.5 percent.These home workers were the most vulnerable section of the bidi employees, while their dependants who made an impressive contribution towards the overall production of the industry as ‘invisible workers’, remained unprotected by labour laws.The very nature of their work, conditions of employment and family compulsions were also responsible for their plight.Though the extent of unionisation among the Bidi Rollers was 34.7 percent yet they displayed complete ignorance about the prescribed wage rates and the labour laws governing their work.
6.5.4 It can be concluded that the Bidi Rollers, although constituted a large proportion of bidi employees, yet they failed to get their due share as most of them were keen on having an additional source of income within their homes alongside their domestic or other responsibilities. Generally they were not aware of the wages prescribed for them and wherever they were aware, they did not demand for the same.Thus, there was wider scope for exploitation of the home workers at the hands of the petty establishments producing un-branded bidis and their contractors, agents and the middlemen.
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