Corona Pandemic Lockdown 2020 multiplied the plight of already distressed unorganized workforce in J&K. Living a hand to mouth life, the degree of their economic miseries is quite unimaginable. It becomes morally imperative, socially demanding to ameliorate their budget economy so as to dwindle such hardships. So COVID-19, in a way, offers an opportunity to review and revisit this unorganized labor market to ensure economic development of workforce.
On the basis of employment conditions we have two sectors i.e., an organized sector and unorganized sector. In unorganized sector terms of employment are neither fixed/regular nor registered with or regulated by government. It gives no work assurance to the workforce and is characterized by an un-regulated competitive market. The Building and other Construction workers (condition of services) Act,1996, available with the Govt. of J&K advocates for the establishment of office and sanctioning of various welfare schemes related to death, injury, medical expenses, education, marriage, funeral etc. in favor of workers by ensuring their registration which is in fact a step towards bringing this unorganized workforce into an organized one as the workforce employed in building and construction workers fall in unorganized sector. Since more than 85% of India’s labor force works in unorganized sector which is also true for J&K, a comprehensive plan seems to be need of the hour to convert the unorganized workforce into an ordered and organized sector so as to empower and encourage them to play their role whole heartedly in nation’s infrastructural development. Here an attempt is made to sketch that plan out. The plan is guided by a principle that an autonomous organization is to be established where a worker above 18 years of age gets registered and be ensured regular work, be paid monthly wages as per the actual rate prevailing each man-day. If the same amounted to less than the minimum wages set by government or if organization fails to provide work to the workforce, then at least minimum wages for the month are to be paid. The purpose is not profit earning but welfare of labor class. There should be different wage rates for different categories of workers i.e., skilled, semi- skilled and unskilled. Although the plan seems genetically matching with MGNAREGA it cannot be substituted by latter. As the plan covers both rural as well as urban workforce in its fold whereas MGNREGA guarantees 100 days of wage employment to rural unskilled manual workers only. There are three pre-requisite elements needed for administration, operationalization and effective management of the plan:
- Workforce: The workforce may be manual/physical workforce working in orchards and farm lands, in construction works, e.g., carpenters, masons, farm and orchard workers and other semi-skilled and un-skilled workers.
- Autonomous Organization: An organization should be created with defined jurisdictional area. It should be linked with panchayat and municipality in the rural and urban areas respectively for over all functioning and administration. It should be autonomous in terms of rules, regulations and financial matters but should be looked after and funded by government with due controls for running its affairs and meeting its administrative and other necessary expenditures. The organization must act as a custodian of the welfare of labor class and their development. It will act as an employer of all the registered workforce and they will be treated as its members. It must work towards providing guaranteed work and wages to its members (work force) and must work to ensure secured future for them. The organization must formally define conditions for employment of its members.
- Government support/will: The success of any scheme surely lies in its effective implementation. Similarly this plan can have successful implementation and operationalization only with proper support and willingness of the government.
In Kashmir, summer season has a potential of providing more working days than chilly winter. In harsh winters the workforce of the valley migrates to other parts of the country in search of work so as to keep hopes alive at home. Fulfilling the basic needs is no less than a challenge for them; children education is unthinkable. Laborers’ homes have given birth only to illiterate laborers. It is very rare to see any white color birth in their habitat.
The scheme needs due cooperation from both the public and the government. The workforce needed in the government as well as in private works should be supplied by this autonomous organization, wage collection schedule should be set out; any indiscipline there on the part of client/landlord (one who hires laborer for work) should be penalized by charging some extra amount. The organization must work in corruption-free environment. As a welfare measure all the registered workforce be provided with yearly Incremental upward wage revision, be declared as Priority House Holds, be brought under life and medical Insurance cover, to be allowed for medical and child care facilities and a compulsory provident fund account be maintained for each worker They should be allowed to work up to some specified age, say 50 years in a 6 days working week. At the end of their service period a handsome financial package/ gratuity should be granted in their favor to enable them to take care of their future life. Special benefits should be promised for the children of labor class; in addition to what they are already availing, special grants-in-aid to be made by government for the organization and Companies should be encouraged to fund the organization under CSR. The government of J&K has large number of laws in place to regulate the affairs related to workers of different kinds. The measures chalked out in the plan would get more authority if at least few of the labor laws like, Payment of Wages Act, 1936; Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972; Maternity Benefit Act, 1961; Employees State Insurance Act, 1948; Minimum Wages Act, 1948; Child labor Act, 1986; Employees Provident Fund Act; Unorganized workers Social Security Act, 2008, would find place in above plan.
The scheme is embedded with an idea to improve the welfare of labor class. Need is to push up the government developmental expenditure by undertaking infrastructure projects which will accelerate economic activities and will also create livelihood opportunities for the work force. The project be launched on pilot basis at first instance in order to judge its benefits, effectiveness and practicability. The scheme does not suggest the opening of a separate department for the labor rather it stresses to give an organized shape to what already exists in unorganized order.
The author is Commerce Lecturer at Govt. Higher Secondary Botingoo, Sopore. Views are personal.