“Under the provisions of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, the wages fixed by the appropriate government are payable equally to both male and female workers in all sectors, including agriculture, and the Act does not discriminate on the basis of gender,” the Government had told the Lok Sabha early this week.

However, an analysis of available data tells a different story.

Even as daily wages of women have increased more rapidly than those of men, particularly in recent times (2004-05 to 2011-12), the gender gap still remains wide.

The Labour Bureau in India has been compiling and maintaining average daily wage rates in rural areas for select agricultural and non-agricultural occupations on the basis of data collected by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO). Data based on a 2017 survey show that the average daily wage rates for general agricultural labourers were ₹264.05 for men and ₹205.32 for women. It means that women workers in the sector get 22.24 per cent less than men. For non-agricultural labourers, the average daily wage rate for men is ₹271.17, while for women it is ₹205.90, which is 24.06 per cent less.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates based on NSSO data show that female workers in India are paid a lower wage rate than their male counterparts in each employment category (casual and regular/salaried) and location (urban and rural), although the differences are smaller — on average — in urban areas.

The gender gap in India remains very high by international standards, despite the raw gender wage gap (the difference in average pay between men and women, as a proportion of men’s wages) declining over time: it has fallen from 48 per cent in 1993–94 to 34 per cent in 2011–12. The gap can be observed among all types of workers.

As a result, of all worker groups, the average daily wages of casual rural female workers is the lowest (₹104 per day). Globally, the gender wage gap has narrowed significantly in the last two decades. In 2015, it was estimated to be about 23 per cent, with women earning 77 per cent of what men receive, on average.

Data from the ILO show that in 2011–12, the gender wage gap oscillated between 22 per cent and 39 per cent across different categories by location and status of employment, and was lowest among regular urban employees (22 per cent). Over time, the gender wage gap narrowed for all subgroups with the most recent period (2004–05 to 2011–12) contrasting with a rather mixed picture in the earlier period (1993–94 to 2004–05).

Remuneration Act

To reduce the gender wage gap, the government has enacted Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, which provides for payment of equal remuneration to men and women workers for the same work or work of similar nature without any discrimination.

To enforce the Act, Central and State governments conduct regular inspections. However, the rules and regulations do not seem to have bridged the gender gap.