ILO report indicates a disproportionate impact on labor
The latest report of ILO is extremely alarming in the sense that it estimated a wipe-out of 7.2 per cent of working hours or reduction of 25 million full-time workers in Asia and the Pacific region. According to the report, the pandemic can take away the job of two billion workers in the informal sector, mostly from developing countries which are at high risk. The report also anticipated that four out of five people in the global workforce of 3.3 billion are currently affected by the full or partial closure of business. Moreover, as the unemployment impacted us on a greater magnitude than estimated, ILO in continuation warned that the extent of the crisis will depend upon the evolution of the pandemic and the action taken to contain it.
Government response through COVID 19 Relief package
The lockdown which has left millions of low-income workers most vulnerable prompted the Center to take supportive measures. As a quick response, on 27th March 2020, a relief package of 1.70 lakh crore (22 billion dollars) was ordered to blunt the impact of COVID 19. Several other packages have been also announced by the state government to shield the marginal farmer and labor. In continuation to deal with the deadly crisis, a programme to credit 24 per cent as Employee Provident Fund (EPF) Contribution, for the establishment having up to 100 workers and where 90% workers are earning less than 15000, was announced. The scheme called “Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana” is expected to work via direct cash transfer and food security measures. The programme intends to provide an additional 5kg rice/wheat and 1 kg pluses. Though the government is working hard, its inadequacy compared to the enormous scale of a problem is imposing a great challenge.
Further to relieve 3.2 crores registered construction workers whose lives are now drastically impacted with the virus, on 24 March 2020, Centre had advised the state to “adequately” transfer direct money to their bank account out of the Cess fund collected by the Construction Welfare Board (CWB). According to the Labor Ministry, around 31000 crores was lying with Building and other construction worker welfare (BoCW). As per the BoCW Act of 1996, all construction activities are bound to pay at least 1 per cent of Cess if the cost of the project is more than 10 lakh (13000 dollars). The construction cess is under the State’s domain and the state can utilize it for social security and welfare of registered workers. As a result, after receiving the directives from the Centre, many states have transferred amounts ranging from 1000 to 5000 rupees to the bank account of construction workers. Though the right path was chosen, many issues are restricting the portability of the welfare benefit. Instances of selective registration, no up-gradation of identity card, enrollment of non-construction workers as beneficiary and most importantly corruption are a few among them. Recently to address the issue, Ministry of labour has prepared a new guideline under which the state government is directed to start online registration of workers.
Inequitable access to Employment and Healthcare protection measures
To restrict the spread of the virus, on 25th March 2020, the prime minister imposed the world’s biggest and strictest lockdown, ordering residents to stay at home. Surely, the lockdown has left millions of migrant laborers unemployed but immediately thereafter, the heart-wrenching pictures and video of migrant laborers, walking a hundred miles to reach their village were not very uncommon. Regrettably, this section is more vulnerable as most of the activities are shut down leaving them with no money at all. Again, due to the ban on non-essential travel, they are forced to live in crowded places under substandard conditions. And hence facing a great risk of infection. The situation is grimmer as no medical covers are available for them. Poor hygiene practices, no access to safe water, and unhygienic settlements further increased their chances of transmission.
Moreover, the workers who were walking back to their home faced police harassment, beating and even criminalization. Those who are lucky enough to reach their destination just before or during the continuing lockdown are experiencing unequal access to health care, quarantine facilities and are struggling with the social stigma associated with the risk of spread. Strangely, some of them who still manage to have work are reluctant to report the cases, either for the fear of not being paid or the chance that they will be thrown out of the job. Also, the advice of self-isolation which means not being paid for the next 14 days is simply an infeasible option for them. Furthermore, the pace and extent of spread rumors are not new to the times of pandemic but the speedy spread of misinformation concerning false responses and treatment have put workers safety and lives of millions at more risk.
Continued from – “Digital Underclass” at risk: Plight of Informal Labours – Part 1
Concludes in part 3 – “Digital Underclass” at risk: Plight of Informal Labours – Part 3
Guest Author Bio
Dr. Neha Nainwal
Dr. Neha Nainwal is an Assistant Professor at University of Delhi. She has teaching experience of more than seven years. She received her P.HD in commerce from Delhi school of economics, University of Delhi. Her primary specialization was Development economics and her secondary specialization involves financial inclusion, Agriculture and labor. She also authored more than ten research papers and presented papers in many international and national conferences. She also worked as a content writer for than 20 modules for HRD Ministry project “E- PG pathsala”. She has also authored various article for many national level magazine.