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Dignity Of Labour, An Illusion

Dignity Of Labour, An Illusion

The material prosperity of a country depends on the progress of its agriculture, industry and trade. Ordinary labourers work in the fields, mines, mills and factories. Their labour leads to the prosperity and power of the country. Thus work is power. An ordinary labourer without education is better than an idle educated man because he earns his bread with the sweat of his brow. His work is as sacred as worship to God. Hence, there can be no proper development in agriculture and industry, trades and commerce in our country without stressing on the dignity of Labour.

Gandhiji’s Views on Work and Labour

Gandhiji owed all his success and greatness to the incessant toil and hard work of silent, devoted, able and pure workers, men as well as women. He believed that “Work without faith” is a sin. India is by birth, a poor country. Around 30% of the population is driven into the ranks of beggars every year since the days of pre-independence. This proportion has never changed except that our overall population has risen. The current population of India is 1,351,052,632 as of April 20, 2018, based on the latest United Nations estimates. Gandhiji judged that this grinding poverty and starvation has put the people on a desperate struggle for bread and it renders them insensible to all feelings of decency and self-respect. He squabbled with the philanthropists and institutions to provide meals under healthy, clean surroundings upon getting work from men and women. He invented the victorious mantra, the spinning wheel, for such regressive condition of the nation since he strongly felt that spinning and cotton related processes alone could be the ideal occupation for the bread labour. He also had a strong notion while allowing the other options of work, "No labour, no meal…” He pointed out the divine law from the Bible and Gita saying “Those who ate without work were thieves”. Gita in particular elicits that he who eats without offering a sacrifice eats not the earned food but a stolen food. The situation does not have much difference for the poor except they have a country as their own, that too if they have Aadhaar Card.

Capital Vs Labour

“Respect for labour should be national trait,” says PM Modi on Independence Day. The PM roars like a lion at his speeches but the poor labourers are trapped with his new commitments like the new Labour Codes and Pakoda business.

What is our attitude towards these poor labourers? Do we give them the respect, dignity and fair dues that they are entitled to? An honest introspection will reveal that most of us who have earned a college degree think lowly of them. We haggle with them for petty money and we never appreciate their work. We think that they overcharge us every time and are critical of their work. There is never a job well done and giving a tip is absolutely out of the question. We think twice to help a poor child but we willingly donate to religious institutions.

We pay the bill at the restaurants and malls with satisfactory tips to the waiters whereas we bargain with the vegetable vendor, Auto/Rickshaw pullers, small scale business people etc. What are we communicating to the poor labourers and can we think of having India without them? Duty done more than 8 hours is overtime work which according to law binds us pay accordingly. Each employer has the moral responsibility and legal liability to the employee while they are in employment with you with regard to their safety, social security and minimum wage as per the government notifications. It is disheartening to see the nurses fight for their decent wage. A hospital cannot run only with doctors who are highly paid at the cost of the nurses and para medical staff. Payment disparity is the creativity of some feudal minded business men and women of our country.

Our Constitution makers perceived the human being beyond a mere physical entity and incorporated Article 21 in Indian Constitution as “No person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”. Dignity is one of the civil rights but it is now to be construed as defendant on the enjoyment of several economic, social and cultural rights. It cannot be forgotten that harassment and bullying at work place is intrinsically connected with their right to live with human dignity enshrined in our constitution. Our constitution imposes an obligation on the part of the State to protect the dignity of the individual at all places including at the work places. The pledge in the preamble of our constitution is to secure the “Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual” which includes dignity of the employees at the work place. Article 42 of the constitution directs the state to make a “provision for securing just and humane conditions of work. Article 43 of the Constitution directs the State to secure, all workers, agricultural, industrial or otherwise, work, a living wage, conditions of work ensuring a decent standard of life and full enjoyment of leisure and social and cultural opportunities by suitable legislation or economic organisation or in any other way.  Thus the State is under an obligation to make it possible for the employees to work in genuine and humane conditions of work without any humiliation and harassment in which their right to honour and dignity is not infringed.

The Catholic Church has the best social teachings on dignity of labour. It shows the place a worker has in the church.   Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner ( Pope Leo XIII   - Rerum Novarum). Catholic brethren need to examine themselves as to how far it is implemented by them.  

Only man is capable of work, and only man works, at the same time by work occupying his existence on earth. Thus work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons. And this mark decides its interior characteristics; in a sense it constitutes its very nature (Saint John Paul II - Laborem Exercens).

(The writer is Programme Manager, CBCI Office for Labour)

(Published on 23th April 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 17)