41 of them, engaged by the Public Works Department, are working in the campus at Ulaganeri

Can there be discrimination in payment of daily wages to women ‘mazdoors,’ the menial labourers engaged by the Public Works Department (PWD), solely on the basis of gender? This is the moot question posed by a group of women labourers engaged for maintenance of the Madras High Court Bench premises at Ulaganeri near here.

The High Court Bench campus spread over 100 acres at Ulaganeri near here is being maintained by 63 daily wage labourers engaged by the PWD, another 27 labourers engaged by the erstwhile Uthangudi Panchayat which was recently merged with Madurai Municipal Corporation and many other such workers who were absorbed into High Court service a few years ago. Of the 63 labourers engaged by the PWD, 41 are women and 22 men. The PWD had fixed separate schedule of rates for such daily wage labourers engaged in workplaces within Municipal Corporation limits and rural pockets. As per the schedule, male workers in Corporation limits would be paid Rs. 201.30 and female workers only Rs.185 a day.

When asked for an explanation with regard to the difference in payment of salary on the basis of gender, a PWD official said that the men were classified as mazdoor (category-I) and women as mazdoor (category-II). “Though the nature of work was similar for both of them, I do not know the exact reason why the department had fixed different wages,” the official said.

On the other hand, women labourers pointed out that the discrimination in wages on the basis of gender was against Equal Remuneration Act 1976, a Central legislation which categorically states that no employer shall pay to any worker, remuneration at rates less favourable than those at which it was paid to the workers of opposite sex for performing either same work or work of similar nature.

The Act also defined the term ‘same work or work of similar nature’ to mean work in respect of which the skill, effort and responsibility required were the same when performed under similar working conditions by a man or a woman and the differences, if any, between the skill, effort and responsibility required of a man and those required of a woman were not of practical importance in relation to the terms and conditions of employment.

“Even the current wage of Rs. 185 a day was being paid to us only from June. Earlier, women were paid Rs.110 a day and the men Rs. 130 on the ground that the court campus was under panchayat limits. But only now we came to know that there could not be such a huge difference between panchayat and Corporation limits. The difference should only be around 10 per cent of the wages,” rued a woman employee.

The 27 employees who were initially engaged by Uthangudi panchayat and now working under the Madurai Corporation for cleaning the court premises also had a similar grievance. After the merger of the panchayat with the civic body, their monthly salary was increased from Rs. 600 to Rs.1,290. Yet, it was lower when compared to other similar Corporation workers who were paid Rs. 4,000 a month, they claim.

These employees are now eagerly looking forward to some kind of relief from their employers by keeping in abeyance a suggestion made by some lawyers to file a case in the same court which they keep clean by sweating out in the hot sun day in and day out.

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