‘Pandemic has made matters worse for women, the young, self-employed, migrants’.
Direct transfer of money into bank accounts of informal workers and an urban employment guarantee scheme were among the recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour in its report on the impact of the pandemic on rising unemployment and job loss.
The report, which was presented in the Lok Sabha and tabled in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, said: “The pandemic has devastated the labour market, denting the employment scenario and threatening the survival of millions of workers and their families.” The panel, which is chaired by Bhartruhari Mahtab, called on the government to improve social security measures for workers.
Citing the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS), the report said 90% of workers were in the informal sector, which is 419 million of the 465 million workers. The PLFS quarterly bulletin for April-June 2020 showed the unemployment rate in urban areas for those above 15 years at 20.8%, an increase from 9.1% in January-March 2020.
The committee noted that the PLFS data for years prior to the pandemic were available and the real impact of COVID-19 would only be seen when the PLFS for 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 are available. It asked the Labour Ministry to take up the issue of timely completion of the PLFS with the Statistics and Programme Implementation Ministry.
Significant income losses
“Although no survey data are available as yet on the impact of the second wave which has undisputedly been more severe than the first, anecdotal evidence as well as the situation experienced during the first wave suggest that there would have been significant income losses particularly in the informal sector, pushing the vulnerables deeper into crisis,” the report said.
The panel said it was of the “studied opinion that the COVID-19 crisis in India has come in the backdrop of pre-existing high and rising unemployment”.
“Therefore, a comprehensive plan and roadmap are required to address the deteriorating condition of employment much aggravated by the pandemic, and widening disparities in the job market in the organised sector…Offering another round of income support to the poor to compensate for loss of jobs/employment incurred due to the two lockdowns imposed would go a long way in mitigating their woes.”
Among the suggestions were strengthening of social security measures and the possibility of putting “money in the bank accounts of the informal workers during adverse conditions like COVID-19”. The panel noted that like in most countries, in India too the pandemic had made matters worse for women, the young, self-employed, migrants and worker with low and medium skills.
“The government therefore, should strive to support a recovery that is robust, broad based and women centric and based on social dialogues with all the stakeholders concerned so as to promote and ensure seamless transition,” it said.
The panel said universal healthcare should be made a legal obligation of the government and the budgetary allocation for MGNREGA should be increased. It said an urban jobs guarantee scheme on the lines of the MGNREGA should be implemented.
The committee noted the efforts of the government to address workers’ woes in the past year. The State Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Boards had disbursed ₹5,618 crore to the bank accounts of 1.83 workers during the first wave and ₹1,704.3 crore was disbursed 1.18 crore workers in the second wave.
The panel flagged the issue of lack of a study by the Labour Ministry to gauge the impact of its advisories on employers’ recruitment and termination policies. The committee pulled up the Ministry for the delay in developing a national database of unorganised workers, which the Labour and Employment Secretary told the panel would now be completed by August 15.
“When the entire nation was witnessing a heart-rending sight of lakhs of migrant workers walking back to their native places helplessly without anything to fall back on, the Committee find it surprising that the Ministry waited for as long as two months i.e. until June 2020 to write to the State governments and that too after goaded by the Supreme Court, to collect the much needed detailed data of the migrant workers. (sic),” the report said.
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