While the pandemic has thrown up some unprecedented policy challenges, it has also exposed the gaps in India’s social security policies, especially towards the informal workers. Immediately after the announcement of the lockdown in India in March, more than one crore migrant workers returned to their native states.
A survey conducted by Azim Premji University during the first three months of the pandemic found that 66% of workers had lost their jobs. By the end of May 2020, around 77% of households reported a reduction in their food consumption, and 47% did not have the means to buy essentials even for a week. Majority of the people who had lost work were casual and non-agricultural, self-employed workers.
The Indian labour market is predominantly informal. The workers employed in the informal sector are either inadequately covered or not at all covered under the existing labour legislation, social protection schemes, and other employment benefits. They, often, work in extremely exploitative and precarious conditions. Which begs the question- why?
According to the International Trade Union Confederation, India is amongst the 10 worst countries in the world in terms of worker rights in 2020.
A newly released research brief by us (download ‘Social Security for Informal Workers in India’) focusses on the Indian government’s policy initiatives to extend social security benefits to informal workers in the country.
Between 2011-12 and 2018-19, there has been only a slight improvement in the access to social security benefits by informal workers- from 23% to 26%. Similarly, there has been negligible change in the share of workers eligible for paid leave or having a written job contract. Currently, there is no minimum social security benefit that a citizen is guaranteed. A unified database of unorganised workers also does not exist. There are various other such challenges.
For migrant labourers, it is unclear which state will be required to pay for social security benefits- the ‘source’ state or the ‘destination’ state.
The humanitarian case for a robust social security system for informal workers has never been clearer. In a world of unrelenting wealth inequality and widespread chronic poverty, social security offers resilience against socio-economic shocks, such as the one we are facing today because of the pandemic.
The newly released research brief analyses the social security provisions that are available to informal workers at present, specifically in the unorganised sector, and identifies gaps and challenges in extending comprehensive social protection to these workers. Among its salient points are:
To learn more about social security for informal workers, read the research brief available here.