Plight of workers of unorganized sectors- Agenda for 2019 election

Dr VK Bahuguna

(author is a retired civil servant)

 The 16th Lok Sabha's 5 years working tenure came to an end on 13th February 2019 and the political leaders did good bye to each other in a rare bonhomie and now getting ready for each other's throats during the coming Parliamentary elections scheduled to be held in the month of May 2019. The Indian polity had remained embroiled in Rafale deal and other superficial things for most part of the year, though the NDA government did give some parting gifts in the interim budget to the farmers, and poor people who largely constitute a work force in the unorganized sector. It is time to discuss what the major political parties like BJP and Congress are going to offer to the Unorganized Workers (UW) which constitute about 90% of the work force and according to National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector contributes 50% to GDP.

As per "Ministry of Labour and Employment definition : Unorganized sector means an enterprise owned by individuals or self-employed workers and engaged in the production or sale of goods or providing service of any kind whatsoever, and where the enterprise employs workers, the number of such workers is less than ten. It covers home-based worker, self-employed worker or a wage worker in the unorganized sector and includes a worker in the organized sector who is not covered by any Acts mentioned in Schedule II of the Unorganized Workers Social Ac 2008.

The country is the fifth largest economy of the world today and poised to further climb up to third position soon. But did our planners think about plight and acute hardship this group of people faces day in and day out?. They constitute a solid vote bank of more than 45 crore and are mostly engaged in agriculture, construction and other such activities. Of these the condition of migratory construction workers is very pitiable. This writer had recently interacted with the migrant workers from Madhya Pradesh during one extreme cold day in January 2019.

(Construction workers living in pathetic conditions in a park in Sector 62 in extreme cold)

They told him that they had to suffer from cold while living in these plastic huts and are cooking and bathing in open for the past two months. They were working for the Noida Authority civil works. They said the wages  vary from Rs 400 to 500. Their condition reflects the lack of application of mind and a grossly uncaring attitude to human welfare while planning for the

developmental activities by the authorities. The construction Industry plays a major role in the economic growth of the nation and occupies a pivotal position in the nation's development plans and valued at around 9 lakh crore. These are the people who toil hard to make big mansions, beautiful roads, swanky offices and posh residential colonies but themselves lead a precarious life under open sky. Largely being migratory workers they are also denied the voting rights as they have no opportunity to cast their votes. They are either landless or small farmers who come to urban areas with their children in search of better livelihood, seasonal employment and the get trapped. Most of them are vulnerable to diseases. Around 30% of the construction workers in India are women mostly working as head loader or unskilled worker and most of them are unaware about their legal rights during accidents which more often now is a regular phenomenon as several cases of death and injuries are reported due to laxity of contractors and unscrupulous builders many of whom are spurious and play with human life in their greed for money like the one country witnessed in Shaberi village and Sector 63 building collapse in Noida and such incidents in other parts of the country. Yet another group is the mine workers and the gory event in Meghalaya must prick the conscious of the nation in which growing children died in the illegal mining operations so much so that their bodies are unable to be retrieved.

The Parliament's Standing Committee on Labour in its recent report has highlighted the plight of unorganized sector workers and it is high time all political parties tale cognizance of this most valuable social capital of the nation. They are much more in numbers than all the unions members put together but have no voice or pressure group due to poor education to influence and cajole the politicians. Indian democracy is crying hoarse for their welfare.

It is necessary to discuss the issues that strike on the livelihoods of these people. The government must first classify the unorganized sector by occupation i.e. agriculture, construction (rural and urban), service or manufacturing; nature of employment etc. The government then scrutinize the problems for each category. The most important one is their exploitation due to poor wages which is compounded with the low productivity compared to formal sector. They have seasonal jobs and absence of social security systems due to poor human capital base in terms of education, skill and training etc.

It would be in the fitness of things that the government announces a separate national programme for the different segments of unorganized particularly agriculture, construction and self employed and devise new laws if existing laws do not support to provide them basic necessities of life. The skill development programme must include these segments with emphasis on personality development along with skills. The laws must have provision for providing a decent shelter with basic civic amenities like clean water and sanitation, protection from extreme heat and cold in their living space, proper medical facilities, child care and legal remedies to be overseen by some monitoring mechanism. The Insurance companies may be roped in for some of this. It would be worthwhile to provide earmarked housing on nominal rental basis for the seasonal workers for which the government should take action. To give a fillip to their welfare a national commission on unorganized sector should be constituted to suggest a road map for social security at par with organized sector, structure of welfare and review the legal back up. This quote by Turkish author Mehmet Murat ildan " Till a society remembers and starts caring its forgotten poor workers, it will remain to be a cruel and tin pot society"is a grim reminder as well as a caution for the rulers and civil society of this country that Indian ethos are based on compassion.

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