Monday, Oct 03, 2022

Unorganised workers ask: Who will compensate for loss of income?

While the Central government is yet to announce any financial package for unorganised sector workers, Kerala took the lead, followed by Uttar Pradesh last week, and Punjab and Uttarakhand, on Sunday.

coronavirus india, coronavirus lockdown, coronavirus india deaths, coronavirus india death, coronavirus covid-19, janta curfew, coronavirus news, coronavirus testing, coronavirus vaccine, coronavirus cure, coronavirus symptoms, coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus deaths, coronavirus cases, Indian express Daily wagers in tents near Vadgaon area in Pune. (Express photo by Pavan Khengre)

Mehboob Alam, 45, a daily wager, who loads and unloads containers at a dry port in Ludhiana, is without a job for the last 10 days. Containers have stopped moving in and out of the city since the COVID-19 slowly spread across the country over the last two months. Shanker Mandal, 30, and Harmeshwar Rai, in his 30s, are among the dozen others working in Alam’s group, who no longer get paid Rs 500 a day.

“We had some savings, but we don’t know how we will survive in April. No job means no income for daily wagers. Will the government support us?” ask Mandal and Rai. Punjab on Sunday finally announced it would pay construction workers Rs 3,000 a month. The dry port workers may have to wait since the assistance is only for construction workers registered with the state.

But for unorganised workers across many states, the situation isn’t getting any better. For contractors and employers in states with large migrant worker population, the worries are bigger. Desh Rattan, 59, who runs a restaurant at Parade Ground in Jammu, downed the shutters last Tuesday, and asked his 10 workers to return home. “When authorities ask me to shut down, what option do I have,” he said.

Rattan is more worried that the workers, including cooks, may not return from their native places in Bihar and Nepal when normalcy is restored. “I have given them a salary advance of a month or two. But I am not sure if they will return at all,” he said.

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India’s unorganised workers make up 82.7 per cent or 39.14 crores of the total 47.41 crore estimated employed persons, according to the last NSSO Employment and Unemployment Survey, 2011-12. The contribution of the unorganised or informal sector to the economy, according to a National Statistical Commission report of 2012, varies between 48 per cent and 56.4 per cent.

“Timely financial support will ensure they do not return home in large numbers, and this will play a key role in arresting the spread of the virus and the disease,” said Pronab Sen, former Chief Statistician of India.

While the Central government is yet to announce any financial package for unorganised sector workers, Kerala took the lead, followed by Uttar Pradesh last week, and Punjab and Uttarakhand, on Sunday.


In Maharashtra, two of the state’s and India’s most industrialised cities, Mumbai and Pune, were witness to an exodus of thousands of workers, including autorickshaw and taxi drivers, to their homes in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar last week. “Taxi drivers are struggling to earn enough to fetch food for the day,” said A L Quadros, union leader of Mumbai Taximen Association, pointing out that less than 8,000 of the 20,000 taxies plied in the city last week, with many drivers returning to their hometowns.

App-based cab aggregator services have also been hit. For Sanjay Kumar Mishra, 45, who is associated with Ola, the biggest worry is to pay for the expenses of his son, who is preparing for the civil services examination in Delhi. “The trips are down 50 per cent,” he said. For Uber driver, Pradeep Das, the number of trips a day are down to three or less now from the average 10.

Similarly, of the 2.5 lakh auto drivers with badges, many have left for their hometowns. “Drivers who have to pay monthly installment to banks have stayed on,” said Shashank Rao, Union leader of the auto-rickshaw association.


Labour department officials in Maharashtra said the lockdown and closure of private establishments impacted the daily wagers, especially in the construction sector. “There are 21 lakh registered construction workers in the state, with over 25 per cent in Mumbai. Many have preferred to return to their homes. We do not know the numbers though,” the official said.

Sudheer Sarkar, a migrant labourer from West Bengal who works at a construction site in Jaipur, says that the lockdown in Rajasthan has his family staring at an uncertain future. “I used to earn at least Rs 600 everyday from working in construction sites. But now I don’t have any work… There are families whose savings will run out soon, and without any government assistance it will be difficult to find sustenance for them,” he said.

The sharp demand destruction is not restricted to transport and construction, but is quite pervasive, in the services sector. Not just construction workers, those employed as security guards, and for cleaning and maintenance services in malls and commercial establishments, hotels and restaurants, are staring not just at income loss, but also uncertainty over how long this will last.

In Bengaluru, catering and food services have been among the worst hit due to measures of social distancing and isolation over the past 10 days. “Many of my staff have returned to their villages. The demand for food is down 85 percent. We are making only basic stuff now,” says Shivaramaiah, who runs a small, low-cost kitchen that caters to employees in the IT sector and other services in central Bengaluru.

Another large segment of unorganised workers are those who are vendors on the street. Renu Devi, 70, who has lost her husband and son, and earns her living by selling mosambi juice near Morabadi Maidan, said her sales were down 80 per cent. “I have to pay the fruit vendor, but I don’t have money. It is up to God now.”– Zeeshan Shaikh, Raakhi Jagga, Abhishek Angad, Abhishek Saha, Arun Sharma, Arun Janardhan, Johnson T A and Deep Mukherjee contributed to this report


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First published on: 24-03-2020 at 05:33:09 am
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