CONSTITUTIONAL VALIDITY OF MINIMUM WAGES ACT, 1948
Wages are sum of money which is paid to the worker in return of the service rendered by him. Since the era of industrial revolution, workers were regarded as most significant element of the employment. Initially, laborers or workers were being exploited by the employer in respect of payment of wages for their work. There were no laws or enactments to govern the payment of wages and thus the employers were free to exploit their workers and it was on the discretion of the employers as to decide the quantum of wages to paid to the workers.
In 20th century, the dignity of the workers was recognized with a view to protect personal and social interest of the workers. The International Labour Conference, 1928 adopted a draft convention on minimum wages requiring the member nations to regulate a machinery whereby minimum rates of wages can be fixed for workers employed in industries in which no arrangement exist for regulation of wages. In India, the need of legislation for fixation of minimum wages in India was felt after Second World War.
In the year 1945, a draft bill was prepared for fixation of minimum wages and was discussed at 7th session of the Indian Labour Conference. Subsequently, the bill was passed by the legislature in the year 1948 proving machinery for fixation and revision of minimum wages to be paid to a workers or labourers.
SALIENT FEATURES OF MINIMUM WAGES ACT
- The act requires appropriate government to fix minimum wages for specified employments.
- The wages shall be paid in cash.
- The act provides that the cost of living allowance and cash value of the concessions in respect of supplies of essential commodities at concessional rates shall be computed by component authority at certain interval.
- The number of work hours per day and shall be fixed by the appropriate government. Also to provide weekly holiday and the payment of overtime wages to be fixed
- Appointment of Inspectors and authorities to hear and decide dispute regarding payment of wages less than minimum rate of wages.
- The Act considers the non-payment of minimum wages as an punishable offence which may attract up to 6 months of imprisonment or fine up to Rs.500.
- Claim under section 20 to be filed before labour authority where an employer fails to pay minimum wages to a worker. The authority can direct the employers to pay 10 times of difference amount.
GROUNDS FOR CHALLENGE
- It was challenged that the Minimum Wages Act was derogatory to Article 14 of the Constitution which establishes equality among the citizens of India.
- The act somewhere interfered with Article 19(1)(g) of the constitution where it provided that every citizen of India has right carry out any business or trade.
- “Where the fixation of rates of wages and their revision were manifestly preceded by a detailed survey and enquiry and the rates were brought into force after a full consideration of the representations which were made by a section of the employers concerned, it would be difficult in the circumstances to hold that notification which fixed different rates of minimum wages for different localities was not based on intelligent differentia having a rational nexus with the object of the Act, and thereby violated article 14”.
- Provisions of Minimum Wages Act 1948 are not derogatory to Article 14 and Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution
In the case of Bijay Cotton Mills Ltd. v. State of Ajmer, the Supreme Court of India said: It can scarcely be disputed that securing of living wages to labourers which ensures not only bare physical subsistence but also the maintenance of health and decency; it is conductive to the general interest of the public. This is one of the Directive Principles of State Policy embodied in Article 43 of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court held that the notification and substantial provisions of the Minimum Wages Act or not violative of Article 14 and 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. as fundamental rights are not absolute in nature and there are certain reasonable restrictions and minimum wages were fixed by the government in public interest while fulfilling one of the Directive Principle of State Policy enumerated under Article 43”.
In the case of “ Bhikusa Yamasa Kshatriya v. Sangamner Akola Bidi Kamgar Unionthe Supreme Court of India observed that the . Article 14 of the Constitution forbids class legislation but does not prohibit reasonable classification for the purpose of legislation. If the basis of classification is indicated expressly or by implication, by delegating the function of working out the details of a scheme, according to the objects of the statute and principles inherent therein, to a body which has the means to do so at its command, the legislation will not the exposed to the attack of unconstitutionality.
In other words, even if the statute itself does not make a classification for the purpose of applying its provisions, and leaves it to a responsible body to select and classify persons, objects, transactions, localities or things for special treatment, and sets out the policy or principles for its guidance in the exercise of its ,authority in the matter of selection, the statute will not be struck down as infringing Article 14 of the Constitution”.
Further in the case of “Chandra Bhavan Boarding and Lodging, Bangalore and others v. State of Mysore and others the Supreme Court of India observed that the government can fix different minimum wage depending upon the economical conditions, cost of living, nature of work, category of employment, etc. and held that the provisions of the Minimum Wages Act 1948 and notification of government does not violate article 14 and 19(1)(g) of the Constitution”.
- Fixation of different wage rates for different localities is not discriminatory.
In the case of “Unichoyi vs. State of Kerala the explained that the Minimum wages Act purports to prevent exploitation of labour and for that purpose empowers the appropriate government to take steps to prescribe minimum rates of wages in the scheduled industries. In an underdeveloped country which faces the problem of unemployment on very large scale, it is not unlikely that labour may offer to work even on starvation wages.
The policy of the Act is to prevent the employment of such sweated minimum rates, the capacity of the employer need not to be considered. What is being prescribed is minimum wages rates which a welfare state assumes every employer must pay before the employs labour”.
In the case of “ N.M. Wadia Charitable Hospital vs. State of Maharashtra it was held that fixing of Different minimum wages are allowed for different localities under the Constitution and Indian labour laws, hence the question whether any provision of the Minimum Wages Act is wrong against the provision of the Constitution.”
Futher, India’s Union Labour and Employment Minister Shri Mallikarjuna Kharage pointed out that “The variation of minimum wages between the states is due to differences in socio-economic and agro-climatic conditions, prices of essential commodities, paying capacity, productivity and local conditions influencing the wage rate. The regional disparity in minimum wages is also attributed to the fact that both the Central and the State Governments are the appropriate Governments to fix, revise and enforce minimum wages in Scheduled employments in their respective jurisdictions under the Act”.
The major objective of the minimum wages act is to protect the workers or labourers from being exploited by the employers who intends extract fruit out of the sweat of workers and pay them very less. The workers or labourers are considered as the human resources of an economy, thus their interest needs to be protected to enhance their efficiency. In this study we can observe that the provisions of this Act are somewhere violative of Fundamental Rights enshrined under the Constitution of India.
However we should not forget that these rights are not absolute and also subject to certain reasonable restrictions. Further the Directive Principles of State Polices given under Constitution advices the states to make provision to enhance and protect interest of the labourers. Thus, The Minimum Wages Act, 1948 is constitutionally valid.
 AIR 1955 SC 33
 AIR 1963 SC306
 AIR 1970 SC 2042
 AIR 1962 SC 12
 1993 IIILLJ 536 Good
Author: Lalit Mohan,
Delhi Metropolitan Education,GGSIPU ( 4th year )