Getting Labour Back to Work!
Real Estate

Getting Labour Back to Work!

The availability of labour has been a self-created blunder which has hurt our country’s ability to get back to work. Paradoxically, while our businesses are feeling the pinch of the unavailability of labour , we are also staring at staggering unemployment!

Economies in Europe are getting back to work with even restaurants and movie theatres being opened. China is already at its near normal capacity of work. But an inadequately planned lockdown with scant eye on details of the consequences has done us in. This has resulted in nearly 2.5 million migrant labour returning only to the state of Uttar Pradesh, of which 75 per cent are from Maharashtra. Totally 9.1 million migrants have been transported by trains and road transport during May as per the government! Several more have walked their way home. The entire ‘Make in India’ workforce has been disrupted adding to the losses of the businesses which were ready to commence operations.

India currently has a population of about 1.37 billion. Of this, about 1 billion are in the working-age, above 15 years doing paid work, formal or informal. Using this definition, in February 2020, pre-Coronavirus pandemic and national lockdown, about 400 million Indians were employed, as per the CMIE report for the month. At that point, only 34 million were unemployed. As per recent reports, CMIE estimates that only 27.7 per cent of the working-age population (1 billion) was employed in the week after the lockdown began. That works out to 285 million. So, within two weeks, the number of gainfully employed has come down from 400 million to 285 million, a drop of 115 million. This along with the unemployed pre-COVID works out to a total 149 million!

The Central Government has introduced Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2019, in Lok Sabha, in July 2019, which aims to subsume and replace 13 labour laws including the Migrant Workmen Act. This act can provide for social security which has been missing for migrant labour. Unemployment has reached a staggering figure of 150 million from the pre-COVID level of 34 million. These needs to be tackled on a war footing level as there are several consequences of this kind of a staggering unemployment level. Social security should be introduced with an identity card for labour as SHRAMIK AADHAR for which a campaign should be rolled out. This would invite all labour to claim their benefits. Once they register they should be provided with some part of the benefits and then as soon as they are able provide an evidence of them having secured an employment, they can access the rest of their social security benefits. These benefits would be available to workers ONLY after they are on the rolls of an employer, whose Corporate or Business Identity number would also be needed. This will incentivise migrant workers to seek work to claim their social security benefits and then return to work. This can reverse the return of the migrant labour back to the cities. If our government can provide an additional booster of Rs 400 billion for the MG-NREGA scheme, taking it as a total budgetary grant of Rs 1 trillion providing funds to the unemployed, then this SHRAMIK AADHAR scheme should definitely have a higher budget so that it is more attractive for getting them back to work.

Also read: Will Modi's economic package revive Indian businesses?

Also read: Reviving the construction sector in India post COVID-19 

About the Author:

Pratap Padode is Founder, ASAPP Info Global Group, and Founder & Executive Director at FIRST Construction Council and Smart Cities Council India.

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