The Deplorable State Of The Unorganised Sector and the Urgent Need for Reforms

unorganised workforce india image 1

Since Independence in 1947, India has witnessed progress on various fronts. However, the progress on Equality of Human rights, especially when it comes to non-permanent workers or Unorganised sector workers has been plodding, despite various attempts by lawmakers. The issue is deep-rooted and is at an inflexion point where despite many incidents across the country, some of them resulting in extreme violence and loss of lives, not much progress has been made in the Working Conditions or Rights for the unorganised sector

Before we dwell forward into the issue, let us get a clear picture of the current situation.

In India, the unorganised sector has low productivity and gets paid low wages. In 2015, it accounted for over 94 % of India’s 500+ million workers. At the same time, the unorganised sector created 57% of India’s national domestic product in 2006, which is way below the organised sector. This vast inequity in the distribution of economic resources has marginalized most of these communities to a large extent.

This marginalized community is divided by the government into 4 major segments:

  1. Under Terms of Occupation:

Small & marginal farmers, landless agricultural labourers, sharecroppers, fishers, those engaged in animal husbandry, beedi rolling, labelling and packing, building and construction workers, leather workers, weavers, artisans, salt workers, workers in brick kilns and stone quarries, workers in sawmills, oil mills, etc.

  1. Under Terms of Nature of Employment:

Attached agricultural labourers, bonded labourers, migrant workers, contract and casual labourers, etc.

  1. Under Terms of Specially Distressed Category:

Toddy tappers, scavengers, carriers of head loads, drivers of animal driven vehicles, loaders and unloaders, etc.

  1. Under Terms of Service Category:

Midwives, domestic workers, fishermen and women, barbers, vegetable and fruit vendors, newspaper vendors, etc.

These unorganized players, being distributed geographically across the nation, have not had the opportunity to organize to result in any widespread social movement. This is further amplified by the fact that the phenomenon being so common in the country, is largely taken for granted and accepted as a part of the dominant narrative. Workers, who travel from one place to another as migrant labour, face far worse situations than those who belong to the villages, often living in sub-human conditions and being paid less than the minimum wage. These migrant labours, unsupported by current labour laws, are often not registeredto get benefits from the limited labour laws that exist in the country. As they toil away to build roads, restaurants and construction sites to raise buildings for the more privileged classes of the society, they live in squalor and waste, prone to diseases and death without houses for their own. Their children often find limited access to even primary education, as their parents struggle to make ends meet by sending them to work.

Unregistered under the law, the ambit of legislations also has no sway over their miseries. Most of the members of these sections are employed to minimize costs, being mere numbers in the eyes of their employers, a method to achieve more with little. The country’s large population and the high levels of unemployment ensure that any rebellion by any worker result in dismissal and lack of a job, hence leading to abysmal levels of job security. Their health needs remain ignored, as they toil for more than 18 hours a day, for wages that are barely enough to make ends meet.

What is also pitiful is the fact that those that belong to the marginalized sections of the society, were driven out of their hometowns, their villages and their forests through heavy debt, and high interest rates. Moving to the urban cities with a hope for redemption, a hope to save enough to repay their debts, they are faced by the inhuman working conditions and the bare minimum wages, through which the hope of repayment remains but a hope.

As their anger with the pathetic living conditions that they face has grown, the country, in the past few years, has been witnessing many incidents of violence in this regard. Reports of killing of senior managerial level personnel (Maruti Suzuki) or recent strikes resulting in loss of police personnel rendered ineffective (the Noida Police contractual van drivers on strike due to pending salaries in Noida, U.P.), tea estate couple in Assam murdered and set ablaze by disgruntled plantation workers. Furthermore, demonstrations which are happening by the domestic workers in various cities is proof of the need for better working and living conditions.

Recently, The proliferation of social media, television and cable networks have further helped the cause of the unorganised sector to understand their rights and the need to get them.

If the Government does not look into this issue and implement tough policies, it shall result in large scale incidents of violence, loss of lives in some cases, exploitation of underprivileged who constitute 40% of India’s population. Furthermore, as the ageing population of India starts growing by the end of 2030, it shall result in large scale demographic in equilibrium and societal unrest, which could result in chaos and anarchy. It shall also mean that we leave our aged and sick in a distressed state which ethically is not the right thing to do.

Even as the government announced a plethora of schemes (in addition to existing schemes like MNREGA, Forest Rights Act, National Food Security Act etc.) for the welfare of the unorganized sector (refer Table 1), they have been but sprinklings in a desert of problems.

Date Scheme
31.03.2015 Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme
31.03.2015 National Family Benefit Scheme
31.03.2016 Janani Suraksha Yojana
30.09.2016 Handloom Weavers’ Comprehensive Welfare Scheme (Mahatma Gandhi BunkarBima Yojana)
31.03.2015 National Scheme for Welfare of Fishermen and Training and Extension
31.03.2016 AamAdmiBima Yojana
31.03.2015 RashtriyaSwasthyaBima Yojana
20.07.2016 Atal Pension Yojana

The government also has announced the Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maan-dhan (PMSYM) scheme in 2019 which is a pension scheme good on paper but failed by the lack of awareness, poor implementation and monitoring affect the scheme benefits. Further, the government must include the Industrialists, Social Activists, Business owners, traders, job agencies, etc. while drafting these schemes which will ensure its success. The communication and awareness creation can be on the lines of Aadhar implementation/Swachh Bharat Mission.

Finally, if the country has to be saved from class violence and give its citizens equal rights to live (a basic entitlement as per the constitution), this is the time the government must take actions and implement it, else our country could also end up like Brazil, Colombia, Syria, Parts of Africa, etc. where wealth is concentrated amongst few and need for social security and recognition has torn the country apart.

 A Karan is a student who wants to spread awareness of some of the deep-rooted issues being faced by the society.


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