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Vivian Fernandes
Sunday , August 05, 2012 at 15 : 15

Where rickshaw pullers earn more than car plant workers


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At one time the cycle rickshaw wallah was at the lowest rung of the income ladder. The Delhi Metro has pulled him up by several notches. The compartmentalised thinking of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporations and the administrations of Delhi, Noida and Gurgaon have given him a leg up. Rather than provide end-to-end seamless connectivity, our governments (and public sector corporations) - never used to putting the citizen, the consumer or the commuter first - think of a journey as a series of discrete episodes, where they have a bit role. This is an opportunity for cycle rickshaws.

Film City in Noida, just across Delhi border with Uttar Pradesh, has become a hub of television channels. CNBC-TV18, CNN-IBN, IBN-7, Homeshop18, Zee TV, Times Now, BAG Films, Dish TV, the British publishing company Dorling Kindersley and many film studios are based there.

The nearest Metro stations are in Sectors 16 and 18 - less than two kilometres away. Auto rickshaws would make decent money running shared shuttle services and charging customers individually. That they do not do. They are either not enterprising or find the chore not worth the effort. The heads that bob rhythmically with the rise and fall of the pedal are thankful. Every time a train pulls at the stations, the neat rows of cycles stuck to each other break into a throbbing knot as the pedallers vie for customers. There is none of the autorickshaw driver's indifference or disdain to putative passengers.

I asked a pedaller how much he makes a day. Rs 500 a day, he said. Rs 15,000 a month? I asked. No, about Rs 12,000 he said, not counting the rent of Rs 40 a day or Rs 1,200 a month. He was not an exception. I asked another, and he endorsed the math. A guy I know was reluctant to relocate to Noida, when I told him about the size of the takings there. He said he was earning as much from the tricycle service at Preet Vihar station of the Metro Blueline in East Delhi.

Ten or twelve thousand rupees a month is almost double the minimum wages in Delhi for unskilled workers, which is Rs 7,020. The minimum wages is what private security guards get. If they are freelancers, they get even less. In fact, a rickshaw puller in Noida would be earning as much or even more than the minimum prescribed for a graduate clerk or supervisor in Delhi, which is, Rs 9,282.

But look at the salary that skilled workers on contract get in some of our reputed companies. According to Devjot Ghoshal's report in the Business Standard of 5 August, ITI-trained Suresh Pathak gets Rs 8,500 at Suzuki Powertrain. Eleven years ago, he got Rs 7,500 at Force Motors in Pune. In real terms, he is earning less. Maruti told the correspondent that it was paying not less than Rs 12,000 a contract worker. The labour contractors perhaps skim the rest.

Sarvanan, a contract worker at Hyundai, told the newspaper that he earns Rs 6,000 a month. A worker at the General Motors plant at Halol in Gujarat reported getting paid about Rs 8,000 a month.

Maruti Suzuki told the correspondent that its permanent workers earn a monthly salary of up to Rs 45,000.

I was under the impression that risk and reward are related - higher the risk, higher the reward. By that reckoning contract workers should be paid more, because they can lose jobs anytime.

Much is made about India's inflexible labour laws and how it deters expansion and employment creation. A study by the Asian Development Bank a few years ago said weak enforcement makes them less rigid than they are. If employers had the freedom to fire at will, will they keep more people on their payrolls, or will there be more casualisation?

The unrest at Maruti is intriguing because it was the Japanese, led by the car company, which changed our attitude to labour. Traditional Indian employers were paternalistic. They regarded a veshti or a shawl and timepiece at the time of retirement as enough compensation for a life time of low pay (and laddoos at festival time). Though techniques like total quality management, total productive maintenance, suggestion box schemes and quality circles, the Japanese taught us to regard workers as partners in the production process, without whose cooperation there would be wastage and loss of productivity.

Extracting more out of workers is fine, but how about giving them a share of it? Staff costs at Maruti (according to Mint newspaper) are 2.4 per cent of sales, the lowest in the auto industry, compared to 5.5 per cent at Tata Motors' domestic operations and Mahindra & Mahindra.

We can have ISO certified, Deming prize winning, Six Sigma companies that measure defects not in percentage but in parts per million, but as along as there is no limit to shareholder greed Noida's cycle rickshaw pullers will earn more than a contract worker on a car assembly line.


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More about Vivian Fernandes

Vivian Fernandes is a senior journalist with nearly 30 years of practice, 19 of them in television, all of which he spent at TV18. Vivian’s last assignment was as executive editor of a book on India and China written by the founder of the Network 18 group, Mr Raghav Bahl. He has been an observer of Indian business and politics, and had reported on economic policy making as reporter, chief of Delhi bureau of correspondents and economic policy editor. Vivian has traveled abroad with Prime Ministers Narasimha Rao, Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. He was also reported on the World Trade Organization’s trade talks from Cancun, Hong Kong and Geneva. He continues his association with the Network18 group, but not as an employee.
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