By Dr. Gyan Pathak
With the third wave of COVID-19 rising exponentially across India reaching daily new infection over 1.17 lakh with positivity rate of 7.74, many stringent curbs have been imposed on various economic activities, which are likely to be made more stringent within few days. Consequently, the already deteriorating labour market is likely to deteriorate further, and domestic workers and daily wagers would suffer the most as we have already experienced during the first and second waves of the pandemic.
As the cases of infection started rising again, domestic workers are increasingly losing their jobs because they are being asked by their employers to stop coming to their houses for work till further easing out of the pandemic. Many markets have been already shut down, establishments closed, educational institutions put on holidays, and the presence of physical workforce reduced to half or even less both in government and private establishments, have started disrupting economic activities and movement of the people. Daily wage earners are already seen to be affected the most, and if the pandemic worsens they would be in great trouble. Both the domestic workers and daily wage earners in large numbers might soon find themselves without any economic source to even feed themselves.
2022 has begun with such a high rate of infection of COVID-19 that the country has never seen before threatening overwhelming of our medical facilities once again in the near future, making the revival of the economy uncertain. The economy has just been recovering from the adverse impact of the first and the second wave of the pandemic but could not be able to sufficiently revive the labour market.
CMIE data shows that the unemployment rate in the country even touched a four-month high at 7.9 per cent in December 2020, which was a significant declining trend even before the third wave had started affecting the labour market. In September 2021, the unemployment rate was 6.8 per cent. Between September to December 2021, unban unemployment rose from 8.64 per cent to 9.3 per cent while rural unemployment rose from 6.04 to 7.28 per cent. It was clear that joblessness was more in the urban than the rural areas which needed urgent attention just in the beginning of the year 2022. More so because the urban employment are better paying jobs, and lesser the better paying job it is worse for the labour force.
The first one week of the 2022 is marked with very high COVID-19 infection rate. New daily infection on January 1, stood at 22,775 which was 1,17,100 in the morning of January 7. The threat posed by the pandemic is imposing even more stringent fresher curbs due to which both the economic activities and consumption level would be severely affected which in turn would adversely affect the ongoing economic recovery.
We must note that even in December 2022, the combined job loss for salaried workers and entrepreneurs was about 10.5 million. Above one million entrepreneurs losing their work in one month just at the time when third wave was beginning is a very ominous sign apart from the loss of 9.5 million jobs among the salaried workers.
A total of 406 million workers were employed in December 2021 which was less than the level of 408.9 million employed during 2019-20 according to the latest data of CMIE. The loss of job for salaried workers is a most worrisome phenomena, because it increases the number of daily wagers, domestic workers, and all sorts of other informal employment many of them concealing joblessness. Salaried workers are decreasing day by day, which have come down from 21.2 per cent in 2019-20 to only 19 per cent in December 2021.
Manufacturing sector lost 9.8 million jobs in December 2021 compared to 2019-20 level. Services sector lost 1.8 million jobs, within which hotels and tourism sector lost 5 million and education sectors lost 4 million. However, 3 million jobs are created in construction, 7.4 million in agriculture, and retailed traded gained 7.8 million. The data reveals volatility in the job market. Millions of people get jobs one day, and million others lose next. The third wave restriction and containment measures would further deteriorate the labour market.
Thus the majority of the workers, especially the daily wage earners and domestic workers, will have to suffer greatly in case the pandemic situation worsens, which seems to be most likely the case. It should be therefore most wise decision on the part of the Centre and the states if they prepare themselves with contingency plans to save our working people on priority basis not only from the COVID-19 virus but also from the impending loss of livelihoods. The painful experience from the first and second waves and consequent lockdowns and containment measures must not be allowed to reappear again. It’s an extraordinary time and therefore we need extraordinary measures that too within a few days before the third wave peaks up disrupting the economy and the labour market. Social security measures need to be strengthened at war footing. (IPA Service)