The figure was arrived at based on actual market costs of basic needs

The minimum wage fixed by the State government for a highly skilled garment worker in Bangalore, at Rs. 179.80 a day, is less than half of what he or she needs for subsistence as per the calculations made by the Asian Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), based on realistic daily expenses.

AFWA, a world-wide coalition of union leaders and labour activists, has arrived at a minimum living wage of Rs. 12,096 a month based on the food costs for intake of 3,000 calories per unit, non-food costs on housing, healthcare, education and other basic needs.

Food basket

Jeroen Merk, member of the international committee of the AFWA, who was in Bangalore recently, told The Hindu that the alliance arrived at the figure taking into account the actual market price of a food basket and other expenses at average costs and then projecting it for 30 days for three consumption units, with two children counted as one unit.

In comparison, the National Floor Level Minimum Wage (NFLMW) is fixed by different States in India by taking into account 2,700 calories while not counting for the prevailing market prices of food items and services.

Though the Supreme Court, in 1992, delivered a judgment which said that children’s education, medical requirement, minimum recreation and provision for old age should be factored in while fixing minimum wages in all employments, this has not happened.

All Left-affiliated unions have long been demanding that the government should fix Rs. 10,000 as minimum wage a month for unorganised workers, which has not been met.

Role of brands

While much has been said about how multi-national apparel brands (which outsource production to countries, including India and Bangladesh) can play a role in ensuring decent wages and working conditions, Mr. Merk says that a reality check points to a situation to the contrary.

Though social auditing in labour standards emerged in the 1990s and global sourcing companies started to adopt the code of conduct, Mr. Merk says that they tend to be “superficial snapshots” that have failed to ensure living wages to workers.

Contradictions

He links this failure to the dynamics of brand pricing internationally, which contradicts the so-called “ethical standards” that the brands talk about.

“Prices brands and retailers pay to suppliers have been falling for years, which makes it increasingly difficult to demand and facilitate wage gains even where trade unions exist,” according to Mr. Merk.

“This is because employers argue for a freeze on any minimum wage demands because any increase in labour costs will ultimately undermine their internationalcompetitiveness,” Mr. Merk added.

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