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Is Low-Pay Exploitation of an Employee?

Dear Readers, 

This article is merely my opinion on some facts, however, I do not intend to offend anyone, and if any of you have any valid arguments (for or against) please do leave them in the comment section.

In the last couple of years, the legal sector has become a much viable and lucrative option for many students and thus, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of law graduates each year, however, this has led to a much bigger problem.

Recently, while I was scrolling through my LinkedIn feed, I came across an interesting post that had depicted an ugly picture of employment in the legal sector. The post was shared by a woman enrolled as an advocate in the Supreme Court of India (the highest court of India). She had applied for a job and had gotten it, however, to her dismay, the remuneration they offered her was Rs. 5000 per month. Now, the zeros might confuse some who are not familiar with the Indian currency. The amount, when converted into dollars, is approximately $67 (as of 6th August 2020). She is paid a minimum of $67 a month. And let’s not forget that she will have to work an average of 9 to 5 in a week and her job entails a variety of labor-intensive tasks. While quoting her example, I do consider a variety of other factors that could affect her pay such as past experience, knowledge, competition, and etc. However, I just can not fathom how Rs. 5,000 can be justified in today’s economy when the price of each and every commodity and service are skyrocketing. The employment sector in India is faced with the “more demand and less supply” problem, although that does not fully justify employers demanding employees to work for a menial $67 a month. What is interesting is that the pay is not even enough to pay the rent for a decent room in a city like Delhi or any other city in India for that matter. Even if we consider the average package that is offered in corporate firms or the average salary of a graduate entering litigation that just does not make any sense. In this article, I want to share my views on the low pay of fresh law graduates in India with zero to five years worth of experience struggling to find a job with reasonable and justifiable pay. In addition to this, I want to clarify that I am not including the top five percent of fresh law graduates each year that are fortunate enough to land a good job at a “prestigious” law firm in India and in no way trying to offend anyone. My sole intention is to promote the idea that Rs. 5,000 or 15,000 a month is just not reasonable in the current economy. 

Furthermore, this issue of low pay has hit women the hardest. Since Independence, women have faced numerous impediments, and working for them has always been a challenge. As a woman myself, I can affirm that discrimination between men and women in the legal sector still exists. Even today there are limitations and restrictions on what a woman can or cannot do, we often witness lawmakers and politicians campaigning about women’s rights in society, however, their actions do not seem to align with their words. Recently on the International women’s day, CPI (M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury asked the Prime Minister of India a valid and reasonable question. He asked, “For the past one decade, the women’s reservation bill is sitting in the Lok Sabha speaker’s room. Instead of gimmickry and tokenism, why has Modi not got it tabled and got it passed in the last 6 years?” Similar problems have been haunting women for quite some time now and they’re still struggling to find stable ground, nonetheless, there has been some growth in the last couple of years, although I do hope that the process of change could speed up a little. 

The problem of low remuneration has become a trend nowadays and with Covid-19, employers have been given another golden excuse to continue this cycle of exploitation. In this article, I will be discussing my thoughts on the Indian job market, the pay difference, nepotism, Indian’s take on exploitation, and if low income falls under the category of exploitation in India? 

What is Exploitation? 

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia, exploitation is defined as “to use another person’s vulnerability for one’s own benefit.” Exploitation can be described as the ‘unfair’, ‘immoral’, ‘partisan’, and ‘unjustifiable’ control over someone else’s actions. It explains the two primary types of exploitation: transactional and structural. Transactional exploitation is defined as when there is an unfair transaction between two or more individuals. For example, when one party takes unfair advantage of another party. On the contrary, structural exploitation is the type where one group is favored over another. Apart from these two types of exploitation, there is harmful or mutually beneficial exploitation. In this type of exploitation, a person is left in a worse state than he/she originally was in. Sexual exploitation falls under this category of exploitation. 

Today, the employment sector in India has become the most competitive than it ever was. Due to an increase in job seekers, there have been numerous new challenges that have surfaced in the last decade. The demand is more and not enough supply. In the last couple of years, the legal sector has become the number one choice for thousands of students and because of this, the field has been flooded with more and more demand. As of last year, the number of students appearing in India’s centralized national level test for 20 law universities has been more than 50,000. The overwhelming demand has become an advantage for employers to choose from the thousands of candidates appearing for a single position and pay them according to their whims and fancies. Today, the low-pay issue has become the elephant in the room. I want to point out that getting low-paid is an issue and should be raised and resolved for the development of the country. 

What is India’s Stand on Low-Pay?

According to the Constitution of India, labor comes under the concurrent list implying that both the Central and State governments have the authority to make laws on the matter. This has allowed numerous laws to come into play and numerous others under consideration. However, there are not many laws implemented with respect to low income. One significant legislation in this regard is the Equal Remuneration Act of 1976 that primarily talks about equal pay to men and women and thereby, discourages discrimination. This legislation acts as a major accomplishment in the problem of the gender pay gap. The pay-difference between men and women is another major problem in the nation. There are numerous reasons why there is a difference in pay between men and women, however, it is important to tackle the problem as the difference in pay for the same amount and quality of work shouldn’t be tolerated. The Hon’ble Supreme Court has expounded in numerous judgments the importance of equal pay for equal work. 

When you mention a famous racehorse, they always ask you, ‘from which stable?’ The stable is important. It establishes the ancestry and the breed. When you name a lawyer who has done well, people ask you, ‘from which chamber?’ The chamber is important. It establishes the hierarchy and cultural tradition in which the lawyer has been reared.  

Before Memory Fades, Fali S. Nariman.

Similar to many other professions, the legal profession is also plagued with the problem of nepotism. The legal profession is filled with examples of privileged and powerful families that have made it even harder to compete as there is no fair competition. It is as if running in a match where the winners are already decided. There is no exaggeration in this statement and the judiciary and corporate world are filled with examples similar to this case. According to a post in TOI, “Be they advocates or judges, there is a trend whereby the children and grandchildren of senior advocates and judges continue to thrive while first-generation lawyers find the entry barriers extremely high and the chances of success tilted against them.” In the end, there is no solution to nepotism in India and I can not stress this fact enough. The roots of nepotism are so deep in India that it will take another few decades to solve this problem. In India, nepotism has been widespread because everyone wants to be a luminary or a VIP and they want to keep the “VIPness” in their family. According to a source, India is the country with approximately 579092 VVIPs and whereas China has 435, and the United States of America has 252. 

Is Low-Pay Exploitation?

In the legal world, you can either join the litigation or corporate firm. Your pay is highly dependent on which of the two you choose. You see, in the litigation world, the salary of a graduate lies between Rs. 5,000 to 13,000 per month and the reported average salary package offered to a fresh law graduate lies somewhere between 4 to 4.5 lakhs per annum. [4 lakhs converted into dollars is approximately $5,300] To put into perspective, a fresh law graduate in the U.S. earns between $50,000 to $75,000 and in the U.K, the average salary of a fresh law graduate lies somewhere between £40,000 to £50,000. The difference between the package portrays a vivid picture of where the Indian law graduates stand. 

Exploitation has been defined as the act of taking unfair advantage or unfairly benefitting from other’s work. In toto, low-pay is an exploitation of an employee and thus, employers should ensure that employees are remunerated properly and that there is no discrimination. There is no doubt that fresh law graduates are an essential resource, they help in maintaining a proper balance in the workplace by constantly providing assistance with tasks that seniors may find trivial. There are numerous studies that indicate that happy employees are the most productive employees and thus, in order to achieve organizational goals it is necessary that employees are remunerated properly. 

Conclusion 

There can be numerous arguments that can be made in order to “try” to justify the low remuneration of fresh law graduates. However, when considering the current economy and increasing prices, there is no denying that the remuneration offered to fresh law graduates who have to spend lakhs in their education, a joke. I do insist on thinking about the other variables such as prejudice and nepotism that have hugely impacted on how the legal sector works today. 

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