Just how terrible can job loss be? Ask Sopra Marandi, 35, from Jharkhand. Last month, when 150 layoff notices went out at a transport firm catering to the Bokaro steel plant, the news was first broken to chief mechanic Marandi.
“They didn’t need a head mechanic anymore,” he said, “because my subordinates can fix trucks.” He left the gargantuan steel township for his hometown in Devghar district, broke and on the brink.
Marandi took the Tatanagar Express train to Delhi to join thousands at a massive protest called by major trade unions. The unions, led by the Left-backed All-India Trade Union Congress or AITUC, on Wednesday demanded guaranteed job protection from industries receiving relief or concessions from the economic stimulus announced by the UPA government.
But unlike union workers laid off from idled factories, workers in the unorganised sector, like Marandi, have no safety net at all. “It’s shocking to imagine that you are no longer the breadwinner and you have no savings,” he said.
“The government has offered crores to bail-out industries without placing a precondition that labour will not be retrenched or laid-off and there would be no wage cuts,” said CPI MP and AITUC general secretary Gurudas Dasgupta.
As the downturn lengthens, the sting of layoffs has been sharper for India’s labour-intensive export sector whose main markets are the recession-hit economies of the US and Europe.
Dasgupta said nearly 20 lakh have been affected in sectors like textiles, gems and jewellery, construction, automobile including ancillary units like the one Marandi worked for.
However, according to government figures issued after a labour department survey two weeks ago, nearly 5 lakh workers have faced job cuts.
The International Labour Organisation, in its latest report, has stated that under its most optimistic scenario, this year would finish with 18 million more unemployed people across the world than at the end of 2007.
In Surat, at least 71 diamond polishers have committed suicide. The state has now ordered a probe. “There was a near stampede when I went to collect a form for school fees exemption outside the Surat Diamond Association,” said Pasupati Kol. But this is not for those already thrown out.