AN ANALYSIS OF WOMEN WORKERS UNDER EQUAL REMUNERATION ACT 1976
-The author is Zeenia Nagpal, 5th year Student of BA.LLB (Hons.) from Alliance University, Bangalore.
The Contextual Framework
Article 39 (d) of the Constitution aims at providing equal pay for equal work for both men and women. To give effect to this constitutional provision, the President promulgated on the 26th September 1975, the Equal Remuneration Ordinance, 1975. The year is also celebrated as the International Women’s Year. This ordinance, under its various provisions, provided for the payment of equal remuneration to both the men and women workers for the same work or work of similar nature. It also attempts to prevent discrimination on grounds of sex.
The Constitution of India, in its attempt to build an egalitarian secular ideology engrafted into its principles of equality, liberty and justice proclaimed in the Declaration of Human Rights. Along with Article 14, Article 15 and clause 1 and 2 of Article 16 of the Constitution of India, the state has been directed to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice social, economic and political shall inform all the institutions of national life. However, the major obstacles to the practical achievement of such goals are widespread unemployment, underemployment, poverty, and illiteracy.
Significance of the Act
According to Section 2 (h) of the Equal Remuneration Act, same work or work of similar nature means work in respect of which the skill, effort, and responsibility required are 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 is not of practical importance in relation to the terms and conditions of employment.
Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 was enacted to improve the Quality of Women’s Employment Conditions, empower women in the employment sector and creating awareness among them about their legal rights and duties.
It was on September 1958 when India ratified ILO Convention No. III which requires a member-state ratifying it to promote as well as ensuring the application of the principle of equal remuneration via national laws or regulations, legally established or recognized machinery for wage determination, collective agreements between employers and workers, or a combination of these means.
Facing the Unhidden Reality
Gender is considered to be the most significant factor as far as Indian labor market is concerned. Discrimination among women laborers in terms of wage payments is a very common phenomenon in India. Wages earned by women are generally lower than what males earn. According to SEWA (Self Employed Women s Association 2000), the wages of women workers were below the minimum wages in some cases and at the same time. The huge difference was also observed in average monthly income of women workers, which was recorded to be Rs1815 for females as compared to Rs. 3842 for males. Various reasons are recorded due to which the wages of women labor is less than the male counterparts and among those various reasons few are stated below:
- Women mostly work in light industries as they are unsuitable for work in heavy industries. Also, most of the women work in the unorganized sector where wages tend to be very low. About 94% of the total working women are in the unorganized sector.
- Physically women are weaker than males and thus are unable to work for longer hours, which results in a decreased wage rate.
- Lastly, male workers improve their productivity by undergoing long on the job training but women have many other priorities like looking after family and child care and thus are not able to undergo such training.
Even after the formation of Equal Remuneration Act which guarantees equal rights to women in terms of wages however when compared to male counterparts, it is visible that even for the same type of work the women labor is still paid less than that from men.
Gender Pay Gap- Legal Considerations
As per the NSSO report, the Gender Pay Gap has seen an increasing trend after liberalization as the GPG has increased from 24% in 1991 to about 32% in 2004 whereas the residual gap has increased from 53% to 78%. As per the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the gender pay gap refers to the difference in average wages between all women and all men who are engaged in paid employment. Based on its analysis, the gender pay gap is used as a common indicator of gender inequality in the world of work and is also used to monitor progress towards gender equality at the national or international level.
India Wage Report prepared by the ILO in 2018 states that wage inequality remains a serious challenge to the path of achieving decent working conditions and inclusive growth, not merely in India but even around the world. Although overall wage inequality has narrowed through the years, the gender pay gap is still high based on international standards. Based on news reports, the gender pay gap has percolated into almost all sectors including technology, outsourcing, manufacturing, healthcare, caring services, and social work.
The Supreme Court of India in State of Punjab and Ors. v. Jagjit Singh and Ors. has upheld the constitutional validity of the principle of equal pay for equal work. It ruled that temporary employees discharging similar duties and functions as discharged as that by permanent employees are entitled to draw equal wages like that of the similarly placed permanent employees.
In another landmark case, the Supreme Court in Mackinnon Mackenzie & Co. Ltd. v. Audrey D’costa and Ors held that men and women employees should be paid equally for the same work. The employer’s plea for the inability of the employer to pay similar wages to female employees was not accepted by the Court, as it stated, law does not depend upon the financial ability of the management to pay equal remuneration to the employees. Hence, ruling that the employer stands in the violation of the provisions of the Equal Remuneration Act 1976.
The consideration of women’s participation in paid spheres of the labor market differs from that of males due to the stereotypical traditional notion that women’s roles are limited to the private, domestic spheres. However, the increasing participation levels of women in the paid labor market activities are viewed as a positive outcome for improving women’s status by bridging the hiatus in this crucial sphere of economic involvement. But mere increase in participation shall only remain inadequate to make any differences to gender inequalities. Unless it is supported by the nature of work they undertake, which should not only be decent and lucrative but also more remunerative, and secure.
Such participation is not lauded wherein an illiterate women are crowding into unskilled, manual labor, which rewards a little and are also hazardous to their health and safety. Yet, if more women’s labor supplies are being deployed and there exists a demand for their labor, it is of interest to consider the circumstances leading towards this employment. The only explanation behind this scenario could be heighted desperation and poverty induced compulsion that even though the a work is less paying yet, they will readily accept it. While at another end of the spectrum, there may be outcomes of better educational attainments providing women with the opportunity to undertake jobs hitherto not accessible.
The Equal Remuneration Act in India was enacted to prevent discrimination among workers on grounds of gender. But its success rates in bringing an improvement to the labor market is quite doubtful. What’s needed is not just the law but also its implementation and awareness, awareness among both, the workers and employers.