CoViD-19 is a health ,social ,economic, political and governance disaster. It has shaken all these systems without differentiating between any Man-made borders. Still the Weak are the worst affected among all. Let us look at the plight of labourers in the lower strata.
As per the World Bank Data , 66% of India’s Population resides in the rural area. But we are well aware that center of economic area doesn’t lie in our villages. Rural economy contributes to almost 72% of workforce and 48% of National Domestic Product. This shows inefficiency of workers in rural setting- more suitably “Disguised Unemployement”. A normal aspiring person in a Village – in pursuance of a better lifestyle -leaves to work in Urban Areas. He works in factories , workshops , construction sites -mostly without a formal contract. Such informal workers without a contract are almost 94% of total Workforce (Economic Survey 2017-18).
This informal workforce living in the concrete “jungle” faces lot of exploitation due to lack of awareness . The Interstate Migrant Workers (Regulation of Employement and Conditions of Service) Act,1979 – which provides for mandatory registration of migrant workers for being employed – remains to be more of Show than of substance. Various other labour laws remain entangled together – creating a mess .
The Laws are truely enforceable when people who benefit from them are aware of their existence , scope of application and rights granted under them. In case of Labour Laws, the awareness among almost all of the migrant labour class is absent . Afterall , those laws present a formidable volume of study for legal luminaries. This insensitivity practised by Governance is to be blamed to the nature of Authoritarianism which the Governance commands over the weak.
The Industrial Relations Code 2019 , yet to be notified, clubs bunch of existing labour laws together . Yet there is little hope for unaware and exploited labour class due to various reasons.
Firstly various states have tweaked Labour Laws to support development amid the slowdown due to COVID. This arm twisting of the weak would be a legal act for a few years to come. The ‘gutting’ of the purpose of labour laws can backfire – as the weary migrants are afraid to return to cities- many of them saying they would never return. By taking this step of suspending Labour Laws , they would be stripped of whatever social security they had in face of oppression from employers. This would be counterproductive to growth due to lack of labour availability- which has already started to haunt many enterprises.
Secondly , most of the migrants are still unaware of their social security benefits due to lack of awareness. As long as laws are not explained to them in their own language to make them aware , the laws shall remain to be largely ineffective.
Thirdly , the need to bridge urban rural income gap is important too. Since migration greatly stress the basic amenities of urban society , there is need for upping the earning potential of the rural class.
Now what should be the strategy ahead?
Firstly , providing interim relief to the migrants , informal working class ,MSMEs and all those who have lost their income and homes in Covid 19 should be the immediate response. There is an acute distress among the weaker sections – there needs to be alignment of Administrative machinery with the problems being faced by the Weakest.
Secondly , there needs to be proper strategy for reviving the income of Rural workforce . A greater stress on village economy , digital integration of villages and expansion of rural MSMEs need to be pushed. There is need to increase public spending on agriculture (60% population depends on it) – modernising irrigation , stepping up food processing industry and pushing for modern organic farming methods .Sikkim ,the first organic state of India – provides a model for other states. The 20 Lakh Crore Rupees package – focussed on all round growth -as announced recently by our PM could be a big step towards achieving this.
Thirdly , there must be political will in Central and State governments to give effective social security provisions to our Labour Class. This is necessary for inclusive growth and long term sustainable growth of society as whole . Governments need to strenghten laws furthur instead of suspending them.
Finally ,there needs to be a sense of empowerment among the weak , a sense of empathy towards them in our Governance and a sense of togetherness in all – these are ideals propagated by Champion of Labour Rights and Equality – the great Dr. Bheem Rao Ambedkar who dedicated his life for the Weak .