Welfare schemes for informal sector under progress
The Union government is working on a range of social security and welfare schemes for the informal sector, particularly migrants and gig workers, covering basics such as food security, affordable accommodation, and medical benefits, higher order needs including skill upgradation, financial inclusion, and access to institutional credit, and which may also involve cash transfers to registered beneficiaries.
Although still work in progress, some of these measures may find a mention in Union Budget 2022-23, with the government having already created a database of at least 110 million registered migrant workers, three people aware of the matter said, requesting anonymity.
“The government is working on various welfare schemes, including creation of a social security fund to support welfare schemes for unorganised sector workers, including gig and platform workers,” one person said, adding that stakeholders’ feedback during the pre-budget consultations will be used to make such schemes inclusive and effective. Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman is starting virtual consultations from Wednesday, according to an official tweet. “Finance minister Smt @nsitharaman will be holding her 1st Pre-Budget consultations with experts of Agriculture and Agro-processing industry tomorrow afternoon, 15th Dec 2021,” the finance ministry posted on Tuesday. The Union Budget for 2022-23 is expected to be presented on February 1, 2022.
Gig workers earn from work and activities outside of the traditional employer-employee relationship, and platform workers are engaged through an online platform by employers to provide specific tasks or services to customers. Gig workers such as freelancers, and platform workers earning through food delivery apps or cab aggregators, do not enjoy social security benefits like provident fund, gratuity and pension benefits provided to employees engaged in formal jobs.
The effective implementation of welfare schemes for the unorganised sector will be possible with the help of state governments through an Aadhaar-linked database of unorganised workers through e-Shram portal, the person cited above said. On August 26, the government launched the e-Sharam portal for registration of unorganised workers with an objective of providing benefits of welfare schemes to migrant workers even when they move from one place to other.
“The registration through Aadhaar may also help check influx of illegal migrants from porous international borders. Illegal migrants from neighbouring countries not only grab jobs meant for the Indian workforce, but also reduce their bargaining power as they are willing to work even below the official minimum wage,” a second person said.
According to the government’s estimates in 2016, there were over 20 million illegal migrants in India.
The government is working on a comprehensive social security plan to avoid a crisis such as the one witnessed after the lockdown was announced last year -- the mass migration of labour.
After the Covid-19 pandemic hit India in March 2020, a 68-day nationwide hard lockdown from March 25 was enforced that shut down factories and business establishments.
According to official data, around 11.43 million migrant workers returned to their home state during the pandemic period last year.
“We have no social security. We are often exploited in terms of revenue-share, working hours and unreasonable conditions imposed by the intermediaries, who are often big companies and multinationals. We want the government to adequately protect us,” Telangana Gig and Platform Workers’ Union treasurer K Prakash said.