By Dr. Gyan Pathak
Majority of working households in India have been undergoing an unprecedented hardship ever since countrywide lockdown was announced on March 24, 2020. They were largely uncovered by any social security schemes on the one hand and only 28 per cent of them had salary earning or regular wage – in rural areas only 12.9 per cent and in urban areas 41.3 per cent. About 14.7 per cent households in the urban areas and 9.1 per cent in the rural areas did not have any income from economic activities.
These figures are revealed in the Periodic Labour Force Survey July 2019 – June 2020 published recently by NSO. When the country was locked down without any preparation we had 72 per cent of the household who had no regular wage or salaried income – 56.9 per cent in the urban areas and 87.1 per cent in the rural areas which was 30.2 per cent more than urban areas. At that time casual labour in the rural areas were 24.8 per cent and self-employed were 53.2 per cent. For the urban areas these figures were 11.5 per cent and 30.7 per cent respectively. There is MGNRGA scheme for providing employment in the rural areas from which only casual labour household could get some benefit, but in the urban areas there is no such schemes.
Thus the unprepared lockdown had devastating effect on working household in the country who actually needed more humane policy than the Modi government has shown thereafter. In the midst of the crisis when labour market is yet to open up fully, the Centre has come out with four labour codes that the working class – trade unions and employees unions – has called ‘anti-labour’ while majority of non-wage and non-salary earners working households are voiceless or no one is listening to them. The new labour codes are not yet fully implemented, but the Centre is pushing them slowly despite the states, business, and industries are not fully prepared to implement them because they are also facing the unprecedented crisis after the pandemic.
The survey reveals that self-employed people in agriculture sector were little less at 37.7 per cent in 2019 compared to 37.8 per cent in 2017. In non-agriculture activities these figures were 15.5 and 14.3 per cent. It means agriculture sector was supporting lesser number of workforce, and then returning of the labour force from the cities after the pandemic has increased the load on agriculture even more, deterioration the overall condition of the agriculture labour. Many of the returnees started working in non-agriculture activities but it was able to support on 15.5 per cent of the household prior to the pandemic. It deteriorated the already paltry earnings of the working households depending on non-agricultural activities.
Is should be also a matter of serious concern as to why the number of households without income from economic activities in the urban areas were on the rise even before the pandemic struck the country. Percentage of such households grew from 14.4 per cent in 2017-18 to 14.7 per cent in 2019-20. There was one percentage point of fall in the rural areas in this category from 10.1 to 9.1 per cent during this period. This percentage is very high in absolute numbers if keep in mind the 140 crore population in the country.
Labour force participation rate (LFPR) on current weekly status (CWS) basis, was 38.3 per cent in 2019-20. The female participation was only 20 per cent as against the male participation of 56 per cent. It means our labour policies were not able to provide much needed work to women which was required to their economic empowerment despite publicity blaze of the government. The female participation in the urban areas were even less at 17.5 per cent while in rural areas it was 21.1 per cent. Women are worst hit during the pandemic despite theirs being the main care giver of the society, and were in the forefront during the corona battle even as doctors and nurses. Their pathetic conditions need urgent attention.
As for LFPR for youth between the age group 15-29, it was far worse than LFPR for all categories in all the four quarters of the year 2019-20 under survey which were 20.6, 19.2, 21.1, and 34.7 per cent respectively. It also demands special attention because future of our youth was already at stake prior to the pandemic. The lockdown of the economy and its disruption during implementation of the containment measures has further been pushing them to great distress.
The survey has made a separate category for Working Population Ratio (WPR). It is the percentage of population employed in total population, not only as percentage of the labour force as in LFPR. The WPR in 2019-20 on CWS basis, was only 35 per cent – 50.8 per cent for male and 18.6 per cent for female. For rural areas it was even less at 33.6 per cent – male 51.2 per cent and female 15.4 per cent. For urban areas the WPR was 35.5 per cent only a half point better than the rural areas. For males in the urban areas it was 50.6 per cent and for female 19.9 per cent.
Conditions of employment in even the category of regular wage and salaried employees were pathetic. A total of 67.3 per cent workers had no written job contracts, which means they had insecured employment in 2019-20 – male 68.1 per cent and female 65 per cent. In urban areas 66.8 per cent – 66.3 per cent male, and 68.2 per cent female, and in rural areas 68.3 per cent – 70.9 per cent male and 58.7 per cent female had no written job contract.
It was the same Modi government under whose dispensation such a pathetic condition prevailed for working class just before the pandemic struck India. There was a demand to improve the working conditions and increasing the availability of jobs, but Modi government came with four labour codes that do not aim to mitigate the pathetic conditions of the working class but to make business and industries more profitable without providing social security for working households. Economic recovery plans must keep the labour force at its centre, as it is generally agreed world over, including the ILO, World Bank, IMF, and the UN. Modi government must heed to this suggestion. (IPA Service)