An Overview of The Minimum Wages Act, 1948

The Minimum Wages Act (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Act’) was passed on the 15th of March, 1948. The main objective of the Act is the welfare of labourers. The Act has been passed to secure to the labourers a minimum limit of wages in certain employments. The object of the Act is to prevent the exploitation of the ignorant, less organised and less privileged members of the society by the capitalists. There is a statement of the object of Bill which points out that the workers’ organisations and workers’ bargain-power is very poor in India thus such an Act providing for statutory fixation of minimum wages is much needed to protect these workers.

The Central Government and State Government is responsible for the fixation of minimum wages that the employer must pay. The respective Government can fix minimum wages only in employments which are laid down in the Schedule of the Act. The items in the Schedule are those where efforted labour is more prevalent or where there is a big chance of exploitation of labour.

In prescribing the minimum wages rates, the capacity of the employer need not be taken into consideration as the State assumes that every employer must pay the minimum wages for the employee’s labour. The Act contemplates that the minimum wages rate must satisfy not only the mere physical need of the worker which would merely keep him above starvation but must ensure for him not only his subsistence and that of his family but also preserve his efficacy as a workman.

The Minimum Wages Act was passed to fulfil the aspiration contained in the Directive Principles of State Policy as contained in Article 43 of our Constitution. However, the constitutional validity of the Act is attacked on the ground that it violates the guarantee of freedom of trade or business, etc. given in Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. The answer to this attack was given by the Court in the case of Bijoy Cotton Mills Ltd v. State of Ajmer. The Court held that such restrictions though interfere to some extent with the freedom of trade or business guaranteed under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution are reasonable and imposed in the general public interest and thus are protected by Article 19(6) of the Constitution.

Some of the salient features of the Act are listed below

1. The fixation of the minimum time rate of wages, a minimum piece rate, a guaranteed time rate and overtime for different occupation and for different classes of work and classes of workers shall be done according to the provisions of this Act.

2. The minimum rate of wages under the Act may consist of: a basic rate of wages and a cost of living allowance, the basic rate of wages with or without the cost of living allowance and the cash value of the concessions in respect of essential commodities supplied at concessional rates or an all-inclusive rate.

3. The Act requires that wages of the workers shall be paid in cash, although it empowers the appropriate government may in particular cases authorise the employer for the payment of minimum wages to the worker either wholly or partly in kind.

4. It lays down that the cost of living allowance and the cash value of concessions given by the employer in respect of supplies of essential commodities at concessional rates shall be computed by the competent authority at certain interval as it deems fit. In case of undertakings controlled by the Union Territories and the Central Government, the Director, Labour Bureau is the competent authority.

5. The Act empowers the appropriate government to fix the number of working hours per day, to provide for a weekly holiday and the payment of overtime wages in any Scheduled employment in which minimum rates of wages have been fixed under the Act.

6. The establishments covered by this Act are required to maintain registers and records in the prescribed manner.

7. The Act also provides for the appointment of Inspectors and authorities to hear and decide claims arising out of payment of wages at less than the minimum rates of wages or remuneration for days of rest or of work done on such days or of overtime wages.

8. The provision is also made in the Act for dealing with complaints made for violation of the provisions of the Act and for imposing penalties for offences committed under the Act.

This article is written by By Nishtha, 4th-year BA LLB, Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, New Delhi

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