ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Insecure, Underpaid and Unsafe

India's vast informal sector workforce is entitled to a minimum wage and job security.

India’s unorganised or informal sector workers other than cultivators constitute over 72% of the workforce. This huge workforce has seen little change in its social security despite successive central governments putting in place a variety of programmes. According to the latest data — estimates made by the National Sample Survey Office from its 2011–12 survey of the informal sector — 79% of informal sector workers do not have a written employment ­contract, 72% of them do not receive any social security benefits, and 71% are not entitled to paid leave. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government of 1999–2004 had in 2004 launched modest old age pension and health insurance schemes, which did not go anywhere. Subsequently, the United Progressive Alliance government’s National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) came up in 2007 with substantive and ambitious proposals for social security. But only a weak set of schemes were put in place after the enactment of the Un­organised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008. Modest the schemes may have been but in the new legislation they had to be monitored by national and state advisory boards. Had implementation of the 2008 act at least ensured proper coverage and monitoring, it could have been said to go some way in looking after the interests of the informal sector workers. Critiques and analyses of the act’s implementation, however, tell a dismal story over the six years since its enactment.

In keeping with tradition, the second iteration of the NDA government, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has decided to come up with its own new social security programme. We have news that the Ministry of Labour and Employment will undertake an all-India drive to enrol workers in the unorganised sector to provide a social security net through smart cards called “You Win”, which will provide facilities including cash, health and pension benefits. But, at the same time, the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Bandaru Dattatreya, informed the Lok Sabha in December 2014 that there was no proposal to extend benefits like the Employees’ Provident Fund, Employees’ State Insurance, gratuity and pension facilities to all unorganised sector workers.

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