Women comprise nearly half of informal sector workers, data from new national portal shows

Published on Oct 22, 2021 06:01 AM IST

Workers who have registered so far belong to diverse occupations, such as construction, apparel manufacturing, fishing, gig and platform work, street vending as well as domestic work.

The countrywide registration drive is aimed to count all such workers who lose out on social security benefits because they are undocumented.(AP file photo)
The countrywide registration drive is aimed to count all such workers who lose out on social security benefits because they are undocumented.(AP file photo)
By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Nearly half of 40 million workers of the country’s informal economy registered on a recently launched national portal are women, and most workers regardless of gender are from disadvantaged castes, official data that shines new light on India’s invisible unorganised labour force shows.

Trends in registrations of poor, mostly migrant workers, suggest that there could be as many women in the labour pool as men, or even more, a fact hitherto unbeknownst to policymakers.

The countrywide registration drive is aimed to count all such workers who lose out on social security benefits because they are undocumented.

In 2020, India saw a reverse migration of millions thousands of such workers from industrial and urban centres back to villages under distressful conditions when the government clamped a stringent lockdown to control the pandemic’s first wave.

The government wasn’t able to respond with any immediate help because there was no database of who these people were. The then labour minister, Santosh Gangwar, told Parliament in September 2020 that there was no data on how many migrant workers left cities or how many died en route their homes.

The migrant workers’ portal is supposed to address this gap. It is a joint venture between the labour and employment ministry and common service centres (CSC) run by the electronics and information technology ministry.

Workers who have registered so far belong to diverse occupations, such as construction, apparel manufacturing, fishing, gig and platform work, street vending as well as domestic work.

“In some of these sectors, an overwhelming proportion of migrant workers are also engaged. All unorganized workers. including migrant workers, can now take the benefits of various social security and employment-based schemes through registration on the e-Shram portal,” an official said, requesting anonymity.

Lack of data on informal economy workers mean that few benefit from labour welfare schemes. Data from the portal show that 50.02% registrations are women.

A nearly equal proportion of men and women have been registering themselves, the labour ministry official cited above said.

“The trends show that women workers make up one half of the informal labour force. This is significant simply because we didn’t know this and women-specific policies, such as maternity and child care benefits aren’t available to these workers,” said Gopal Renjen, the CEO of Staffing Solutions Pvt Ltd.

Renjen said a women-led informal workforce could be a possibility and gender and caste compositions of further registration should be monitored to appropriate policies.

Around 65.68% of workers who have enrolled so far are in the 16-40 age group, pointing to a younger labour pool. They mostly belong to backward social categories. Workers from other backward classes (OBC) make up 43% of such workers, while 23% and 7% belong to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, respectively.

The registrations enable unorganised workers to receive a digital card and a universal account number for social-security benefits. Such workers are eligible to get 200,000 for injury due to accidents and on death or permanent disability and 100,000 on partial disability.

While there are no official estimates of migrant workers, a novel statistical tool developed by former chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian had revealed an annual “interstate migrant population of about 60 million and an interdistrict migration as high as 80 million” between 2001 and 2011.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Zia Haq reports on public policy, economy and agriculture. Particularly interested in development economics and growth theories.

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