On March 10, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a post-budget webinar on Economic Empowerment of Women that, “India can move forward only by raising the levels of the respect for women and the sense of equality.”
On August 15, in his Independence Day speech at the Red Fort, the Prime Minister emphasised the pivotal role of women in propelling the country’s advancement.
The Prime Minister also underlined the global recognition of women-led development, citing the acknowledgement of this significance by G20 countries.
A different ground reality
But the ground reality is different.
The Global Gender Gap Index provides a tool for consistent tracking of gender gaps across the economic, political, health and education spheres, and is designed for leaders to identify areas for individual and collective action.
The 2023 Global Gender Gap Index report puts India at sixth position in South Asia and 127th position among 146 countries worldwide.
India is behind Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Maldives in South Asia, and ahead only of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
As per the index report, India has reached only 36.7 percent parity on ‘economic participation and opportunity’ and India’s rank in terms of wage equality for similar work is 116th among the 146 countries.
These numbers might have to be adjusted if a proper account of India’s large unorganised sector is taken into consideration.
As per the Economic Survey, 2021–22, the total number of people working in the unorganised sector in India was around 43.99 crore during 2019–20. World Bank data reveals that the total workforce in India is 52.3 crore.
This implies that a high 81 percent of the total workforce in India is in the unorganised sector.
Also read: Decoding the Code on Wages, 2019
The term “unorganised worker” has been defined under the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008, as “a home-based worker, self-employed worker or a wage worker in the unorganised sector and includes a worker in the organised sector who is not covered by any of the Acts mentioned in Schedule-II of the Act.”
Schedule II of the Act names these Acts as “the Employee’s Compensation Act, 1923, the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, the Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948, the Employees Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provision Act, 1952, the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 and the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972.”
The Ministry of Labour and Employment 2022–23 report states that the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008 has been subsumed into the Code on Social Security, 2020. The code is yet to come into force.
Unorganised workers in Tamil Nadu suffer from cycles of excessive seasonality of employment, lack of formal employer–employee relationship, absence of adequate social security, and lack of other welfare schemes such as sickness and unemployment allowances.
Lack of equal pay is prevalent in all parts of India. The author’s investigations in the past in the aquaculture industry in Andhra Pradesh and mint farming in Uttar Pradesh for global organisations have revealed that women get paid less than men.
Talking to The Leaflet, Sr. Josephine Valarmathi, director at the National Domestic Workers Movement in Tamil Nadu, said that the practice of paying women less than men for the same job has been prevalent for centuries in Tamil Nadu.
“We have led many street protests and consultations demanding equal pay. But we are still waiting,” Sr. Josephine said.
According to Sr. Josephine, in Tamil Nadu, in addition to gender pay inequality, Dalit women get paid less than dominant-caste women for the same skill-set and job.
Recently, women secondary-grade teachers and contractual nurses went on a strike demanding equal pay.
Tamil Nadu had come up with a State Women Policy in 2021. Unfortunately, instead of insisting on equal pay, the policy says that the gap shall be reduced by 50 percent.
Widest gap in Kerala
Benoy Peter, executive director at Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development, told The Leaflet, “Gender-based wage inequality is high in Kerala and when it comes to migrant workers’ wages, it is a shame.”
Benoy works for migrant workers welfare in Kerala and other Indian states.
“If a Keralite male gets ₹1200 per day as wages, a migrant male gets only ₹800 for the same work. Where a Keralite woman gets around ₹500 per day, a migrant woman will get only around ₹300 per day,” Benoy added.
A report by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation’s Women and Men has revealed that among large states, the gap in wages for similar work between men and women is the highest in both rural and urban regions of Kerala.
The report reveals that the average wage of rural males in Kerala is ₹842 a day— the country’s highest.
Female workers in the state’s rural areas are paid ₹434 a day. While this too is the highest among large states, it is only 51.5 percent of what the men are getting paid in similar circumstances.
The three states that have the highest daily wages for rural males— Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh— also have the widest gender wage gap. In all the three states, female wages average less than 60 percent of male wages.
Meanwhile, in Assam, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, female rural wage rates were under 70 percent of the male workers.
Except Karnataka, which has among the highest male wage rates, daily wages are less than ₹400 in the other five.
The report by the statistics ministry also adds that as per national figures, the average rural wage for men is ₹393 per day whereas a woman worker’s rural wage is ₹265 per day.
Similarly, the urban wage for men is ₹483 per day against ₹333 per day for women.
Anju Chandan, a 22-year-old woman from Assam, understands and speaks Malayalam. She and her three friends have been working as steward waiters in a star hotel in Kerala for the past two years. Their accommodation and food are free, but Anju feels that she is being exploited in terms of salary.
“Female workers in our department get around ₹11,000 per month, while male workers get ₹12,000 per month, even though they do the same work as us,” Anju said.
Shockingly, according to a notification published by the labour and skills department of Kerala, as per the minimum wages set by the Kerala government in 2022, both male and female workers quoted above are underpaid.
Also read: Code on Wages Creates Maze for Workers
A steward waiter must be paid around ₹16,000 as monthly wages and a dearness allowance, based on the consumer price index.
Similar is the case of Lakshmi Aditya, a construction worker from Odisha, who works with her husband Aditya Jaichand in Thiruvananthapuram.
“I get ₹450 per day, and my husband gets ₹700 per day for doing the same job. That is a difference of ₹250. But, as we have come here for work, we are adjusting without any complaints. No contractors pay men and women equally,” Lakshmi said.
The Kerala 2019 minimum wages document has prescribed ₹890 as per day minimum wages for masons, so Lakshmi and Aditya are underpaid too.
Section 4 of the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 states, “No employer shall pay to any worker, employed by him in an establishment or employment, remuneration, whether payable in cash or in kind, at rates less favourable than those at which remuneration is paid by him to the workers of the opposite sex in such establishment or employment for performing the same work or work of a similar nature.”
Unfortunately, the law is observed mostly in its breach. In addition to the gender-based disparity in pay, migrant workers are also paid less than local residents in Kerala.
Why equal pay now?
The International Trade Union Confederation says that inequalities between women and men in the labour market continue to persist, leading to greater exposure to economic vulnerability for women.
Estimates by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), based on data from 80 countries, show that on average, women still continue to be paid around 20 per cent less than men.
The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, also known as UN Women, has reported that at the current rate of change, it will take 257 years to close the global gender pay gap.
Together with the gender employment gap, the gender pay gap is one of the primary dimensions of wage inequality that hampers equitable and inclusive labour markets.
Equal pay is also connected to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The SDG 8.5 states: “By 2030, countries should achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value.”
Kabeer Katlat from Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Red Star, told The Leaflet, “Equal pay and anti-discrimination legislation, with effective implementation and access to remedy, in line with international labour standards is required to end this inequality.”
He added, “Pay transparency legislation along with measures and accessible data on wage levels for all categories of employment disaggregated by gender and the centrality of collective bargaining and social dialogue to put an end to the gender pay gap are the need of the hour.”