By D M Deshpande
As a welfare state, governments and the judiciary in India have upheld the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work’ for a pretty long time. However, going by some of the recent judgements delivered by the highest court, there seems to be a complete deviation from this position.
This principle is enshrined in the directive principles of the state policy and the Constitution provides for using them as guiding principles for making legislative laws by both the Centre and the states in our federal structure. Clearly, the constitution implies that these principles are not enforceable directly. However, in an act of judicial activism, the Supreme Court tried to elevate the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work’ to the rank of ‘fundamental rights’. This is said to be the only instance where a directive principle of state policy was sought to be re-classified as a fundamental right. This experiment, though, appears to have failed as per the recent verdicts of the apex court.
Now, the Supreme Court is of the opinion that the pay parity principle has undergone a substantial change. Earlier two individuals doing the same or comparable work were thought of as being entitled to equal wages. Now, the court has decreed that the two individual workers must also be same in all respects or in other words, total identity between two or more persons. Since the fact of at least some difference between two persons is common knowledge, there is no way that the principle of equal pay could be applied in future.
As different individuals and groups began to seek uniformity in pay, the Supreme Court began to rethink on the principle that it had laid down some time back. In the late 90’s it observed that there were inherent difficulties in assessing the work of different persons; that these persons may be having different levels of responsibilities, reliabilities and confidentialities and this would be valid ground for wage differentials.
In this year, the Supreme Court dealt a deadly blow to the principle of equal pay and went on to say that the principle has ‘created a havoc’. In S C Chandra Vs s tate of Jharkhand, the highest court stated that granting pay scale is a purely executive function and that courts should not interfere in the matter. Expressing serious concerns over people seeking pay parity with other persons and other groups all over the country, it admitted that equation of salary and post was a complex matter and it is better left to the experts in the field.
Trade Unions will certainly not like this development. Industry and employers are bound to welcome this as it gives them relief. However, there is no need for any one to feel aggrieved. We have enough legislative laws that can take care of the interests of workers. The industry has been discriminating between employees (in respect of paying compensation package) at higher levels of management.
Whereas the pay parity principle may have some merit, it has to be balanced with the other principles of workmen’s productivity and efficiency. This has become all the more imperative as we move on the path of market driven economy. This development also has to be viewed in the context India emerging as one of the drivers of the global economy. As we integrate more and more with the world economy, freedom to determine wages and positive discrimination of workmen on valid parameters become vitally important.
Further, the national and per capita incomes have gone up substantially in recent times. We have been able to remove a large chunk of people who were living below the poverty line. True, the task is hardly completed and poses fresh challenges to planners and policy framers. Income disparities are also wide spread. But all studies point out to the fact that the best antidote for poverty removal is economic growth. And it is the duty of the state to remove irritants, if any, in creating a conducive climate for growth and development.