Nearly 43 per cent of all government employees in India are holding a temporary post, with no long-term benefits such as a provident fund to fall back on.
The huge percentage shows that to meet the aspirations of a government job in a tight labour market, departments at all levels have resorted to shortcuts due to which even short-term employee benefits have been sheared off.
The data also shows that if government moves to cut retirement age, it would have no impact on close to half of its employees. Correspondingly, impact on savings in government wage bill will be muted.
This is because almost every second government employee, including ones in central, state and public sector organisations, holds a job contract of less than three years. Most of them at lower levels do not hold even such a contract.
To put the numbers in perspective, of the total formal sector employment in India of close to 50 million, 58 per cent are employed in some form of government service.
Of these 58 per cent, or 29 million, more than 12 million are employed on a contract that is with a service horizon of three years or less. They also draw lesser salary than their counterparts in permanent service. But government data on employment at all levels include only those for permanent employees. As an example, the central government has 3.4 million workers from peons to secretaries as permanent employees. But there is another 0.4 million employed as temporary staff as per the last census of central government employees, carried out five years ago.
Typically, the lower-end government jobs attract the largest number of temporary workers. A breakdown of the nature of jobs across sectors shows a quarter of those employed as temporary and even without any short-term contracts are messengers, drivers, mining workers and so on. Primary school teachers at the state government-level and data entry operators deployed increasingly as clerks form the largest percentage of those who are employed with fixed short-term contracts.
Governments including parastatals are the largest formal sector employers in India. The data is based on a research report written by Indian Staffing Federation with Indicus Analytics along with supporting numbers from the NSSO and the government pay and accounts departments. Former director of Indicus, Laveesh Bhandari, said the huge rise in the percentage of temporary workers in government service is a recent phenomena gathering steam since the early 2000s.
Bhandari said this shows the government managers would have to rethink their wage and other service conditions to tailor to these workers. “A reduction in retirement age would have far less impact on the wage bill than is being anticipated. But it will free up more space for recruitment of short-term contract workers”.
Former expenditure secretary in Finance Ministry and architect of the sixth pay commission, Sushma Nath, said fiscal deficit constraints were one of the reasons why state governments increased their temporary staff strength.
Rituparna Chakraborty, president of Indian Staffing Federation, noted that most of the temporary workers have no employment security since they are recruited by job contractors who provide no other financial assurance other than the gross salary these employees earn. The data showed that less than 4 per cent of the temporary workers came from firms which offered to hold them as employees while hiring them out to government departments.
Madan Sabnavis, chief economist at CARE Ratings, said it was a welcome trend as it presaged a larger shift to a contractual employment structure with an attractive fixed pay package.