Under the Constitution of India, Labour is a subject in the Concurrent List and, therefore, both the Central and State governments are competent to enact legislations subject to few matters being reserved for the Centre. Both the Union and State Governments are responsible for the enactment of laws relating to the welfare of labour including conditions of work, social security and social insurance.
As per the Annual report of the Government of India for the year 2019, 137,91, 049 employees are registered in 1,85,022. However, quantum of labour work in both the organised and unorganized sector is larger.
In absence of reliable statistics, the sector of Labour law/ reforms remains a less understood and a neglected area. Survey of 2018-19, released in 2019, said that “almost 93%” of the total workforce is ‘informal’. But the Niti Aayog’s Strategy for New India at 75 (November 2018), estimates it to be 85% of all workers. The ‘Report of the Committee on Unorganised Sector Statistics’ of the National Statistical Commission (NSC), 2012, says the share of the informal workforce is “more than 90%” of the total. Without mentioning the source.
The government does recognise that the informal sector and workers contribute significantly. The NSC’s 2012 report pegs it at “about 50% of the national product” without revealing the basis of such a conclusion.
However, “It is increasingly realised that lack of reliable statistics of the sector has been a major constraint in providing a realistic understanding of the significance of the Indian economy, leading to its neglect in development planning”
When the 21 days Lockdown was announced in India, on 22 March 2020, a large number of labour was expected to stay wherever they were. This was most essential to prevent migration of persons from one state to another. Whereas the decision to impose lockdown was both essential and unavoidable, to do so without visualising the implications was perhaps avoidable.
The State Governments as well as the Union Government Ministry of Labour, in conjunction with the NITI and National Disaster Management Authority ought to have advised the Union Government, measures to mitigate the likely problems specially of the labour from other States as well as measures to create appropriate awareness among these labour to facilitate effective lockdown. The sudden announcement of lockdown, lack of appropriate information and apparent arrangements on ground resulted in a huge exodus and migration of labour towards their native areas.
- It needs to be appreciated that number of the essential services have outsourced labour, all the industrial activity is dependent on labour that are also critical for sustaining normalcy. At the same time the duration of harvesting period would get influenced by availability of labour that will impact the transportation and procurement process for this season as well preparation and sowing of next crop.
- In case large number of labour return to their native places and are afraid of return, could affect the resumption of agricultural activity at desired pace, and other industries and economy may suffer.
- In order to retain the labour which are ready to return, necessary measures for resumption of those industrial activities that can be ensured with safety and facilities to need their essential survival need to be taken..
- It is essential to consider the return of the labour from their native before they settle down and it becomes a long time consuming process to get them back by providing essential transportation, information and essential facilities.
- Numerous service providers are not receiving their long pending payments from the Government departments. If this continues, the service sector employees would not get their dues leading to disruption in essential services
- There is a need for a focussed professional regulation and services of this critical labour sector to ensure essential welfare for which authorities of the State Governments and the Union Government need to put appropriate systems in place which are long pending and have become critical for post lockdown robust economic revival.
Author: Maj. Gen Dilawar Singh (Retd)
The Author is former National Director General NYKS, Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Government of India. Presently he is the Senior Vice President of Global Economist Forum of ECOSOC, United Nations