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92 percent of India’s workforce faces historic and unprecedented crisis: SWAN report

The report relays the struggles of workers in their own words, the limited action taken by the central and state governments to arrest the continuing and alarming level of distress

Vallari Sanzgiri 17 Jun 2021

Image Courtesy:business-standard.com

As many as 92 percent of workers in India did not receive money from their employer following Covid-19 restrictions and loss of work, said the Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN) on June 16, 2021 in its ‘No Country for Workers’ report.

The volunteer relief network spoke with around 8,000 people. These include 4,836 women and children. The report records: 

  • the limited availability of food and rations
  • lack of access to basic healthcare 
  • low levels of income and earnings 
  • increasing levels of indebtedness 
  • the struggles of surviving in the city
  • the additional set of concerns with returning to life in villages
  • state and central government responses

The report finds that compared to last year, when less than a quarter of those who reached out to them included women and children, in 2021 as many as 84 percent of those in distress were with women and children.

As many as 60 percent of those interviewed were daily wage workers whose median daily wages reached to a paltry Rs. 308. Many of them had to make a conscious choice of staying back in cities or returning to villages. For example, Niraj Kumar, a factory worker from Bihar, was stranded in Delhi because he could not leave without returning borrowed money. Moreover, he feared his two children contracting the virus if he went back to Bihar, where Covid-19 cases are rising.

However, he and the rest of those interviewed soon found out that work (daily and contractual) had stopped due to locally declared lockdowns. The number of days since work stopped also steadily rose in the later weeks of May. 56 percent of workers reported that their work had stopped for more than a month.

Further, about 47 percent of the workers reported that they had not received their full wages or had been paid only partial wages before the lockdown while only 8 percent had received any money from their employer.

“A few construction workers in Gurugram, Haryana, told us of how they had been brought there from Bihar only a few days before the lockdown was announced. Their contractor had since abandoned them and had not even paid them for the days on which they had worked,” said the report. This despite 57 percent workers reporting less than two days of rations while talking to SWAN volunteers. 76 percent of workers had less than Rs. 200 left.

Regarding the Labour Ministry’s helpline, SWAN volunteers assisted a single mother of three children Shamina Khatoon, working in a factory that made automobile spare parts in Gurugram. She approached Haryana’s Additional Labour Commissioner to report non-payment of due wages. However, the man told her to send her the details on WhatsApp although she has no phone and does not know how to type. Further, even though she managed to send the message with help from a local shopkeeper, Khatoon never heard from him again.

The precariousness of living without work and wages during this lockdown has led to accumulation of debt, even for workers with regular incomes. This has worsened the situation for migrant workers who cannot access the Public Distribution System (PDS). After the migrant crisis in 2020, the central government announced the One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC) scheme to allow easy access to PDS benefits.

A year later, the SWAN found that 93 percent of migrant workers had a ration card but this was not functional in the place where they were stranded. Access to the PDS at home was also erratic and there were issues related to exclusion from the system, distribution of inadequate quantities of ration, and authentication issues. Worse still, unlike last year, state governments have opened fewer feeding centres to provide cooked meals to stranded migrants this year.

While fighting these economic crises, migrant workers also had their own share of health concerns. When asked about their and their family’s medical status, 86 percent of workers did not report Covid-19 symptoms. However, 12 percent did report other non-medical conditions that ranged from fever, chronic conditions, tuberculosis, disability due to accidents, and so on. The fact that the coronavirus vaccine was only available via online registration only added to the towering list of problems.

Workers in their own words demanded in the report:

  • Consider the plight of laborers on a priority basis.
  • Improve vaccine supply in centres.
  • Registration should be easier: The procedure should be simplified.
  • Improve the manual/in-person registration system.
  • Vaccination should be made available for all free of cost.
  • Make it more accessible for the 18-44 age group.
  • Spread vaccination awareness in villages.
  • Do the vaccination quickly, as without work there is no food.

Beyond vaccination and health systems, the report called for a National Relief and Recovery Package to: protect life; partially compensate for lost livelihoods and income; boost demand in the economy for faster overall recovery.

“Without the direct support of such a package, simply unlocking the economy will not lead to a balanced recovery. Advanced and developing economies across the world are investing in similar state-led recovery programmes that seek to boost household income and spending, recognising the need for large scale relief and recovery interventions into the economy. India must do the same,” it said.

The package focusing on food, income and work has to cover 270 million households in all, which is about 82% of all households in India. Specifically, it should look into expanding the PDS to non-PDS card holders till November 2021 as well as the ICDS delivery for families with children. For income, the volunteers suggested undertaking crisis cash transfers of Rs. 3,000 per month for 6 months.

As many as 1,258 workers’ groups or their families received money transfers from SWAN. This comprised 7,050 people. As many as 6 percent of these groups required an additional cash transfer due to the continued lack of external aid.

The report also recommended that the government expand NREGA work entitlements to 150 days and initiate immediate public works programmes for urban employment.

The full report can be viewed below:

Related:

Rajasthan HC asks why Pak minority migrants not given Covid vaccine despite court orders
NHRC issues new advisories for bonded and migrant labourers amid Covid-19
Prime Minister is an event manager: Rahul Gandhi on govt’s Covid-19 strategy
Gov't admits that over 1 crore migrant labourers returned home on foot!

92 percent of India’s workforce faces historic and unprecedented crisis: SWAN report

The report relays the struggles of workers in their own words, the limited action taken by the central and state governments to arrest the continuing and alarming level of distress

Image Courtesy:business-standard.com

As many as 92 percent of workers in India did not receive money from their employer following Covid-19 restrictions and loss of work, said the Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN) on June 16, 2021 in its ‘No Country for Workers’ report.

The volunteer relief network spoke with around 8,000 people. These include 4,836 women and children. The report records: 

  • the limited availability of food and rations
  • lack of access to basic healthcare 
  • low levels of income and earnings 
  • increasing levels of indebtedness 
  • the struggles of surviving in the city
  • the additional set of concerns with returning to life in villages
  • state and central government responses

The report finds that compared to last year, when less than a quarter of those who reached out to them included women and children, in 2021 as many as 84 percent of those in distress were with women and children.

As many as 60 percent of those interviewed were daily wage workers whose median daily wages reached to a paltry Rs. 308. Many of them had to make a conscious choice of staying back in cities or returning to villages. For example, Niraj Kumar, a factory worker from Bihar, was stranded in Delhi because he could not leave without returning borrowed money. Moreover, he feared his two children contracting the virus if he went back to Bihar, where Covid-19 cases are rising.

However, he and the rest of those interviewed soon found out that work (daily and contractual) had stopped due to locally declared lockdowns. The number of days since work stopped also steadily rose in the later weeks of May. 56 percent of workers reported that their work had stopped for more than a month.

Further, about 47 percent of the workers reported that they had not received their full wages or had been paid only partial wages before the lockdown while only 8 percent had received any money from their employer.

“A few construction workers in Gurugram, Haryana, told us of how they had been brought there from Bihar only a few days before the lockdown was announced. Their contractor had since abandoned them and had not even paid them for the days on which they had worked,” said the report. This despite 57 percent workers reporting less than two days of rations while talking to SWAN volunteers. 76 percent of workers had less than Rs. 200 left.

Regarding the Labour Ministry’s helpline, SWAN volunteers assisted a single mother of three children Shamina Khatoon, working in a factory that made automobile spare parts in Gurugram. She approached Haryana’s Additional Labour Commissioner to report non-payment of due wages. However, the man told her to send her the details on WhatsApp although she has no phone and does not know how to type. Further, even though she managed to send the message with help from a local shopkeeper, Khatoon never heard from him again.

The precariousness of living without work and wages during this lockdown has led to accumulation of debt, even for workers with regular incomes. This has worsened the situation for migrant workers who cannot access the Public Distribution System (PDS). After the migrant crisis in 2020, the central government announced the One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC) scheme to allow easy access to PDS benefits.

A year later, the SWAN found that 93 percent of migrant workers had a ration card but this was not functional in the place where they were stranded. Access to the PDS at home was also erratic and there were issues related to exclusion from the system, distribution of inadequate quantities of ration, and authentication issues. Worse still, unlike last year, state governments have opened fewer feeding centres to provide cooked meals to stranded migrants this year.

While fighting these economic crises, migrant workers also had their own share of health concerns. When asked about their and their family’s medical status, 86 percent of workers did not report Covid-19 symptoms. However, 12 percent did report other non-medical conditions that ranged from fever, chronic conditions, tuberculosis, disability due to accidents, and so on. The fact that the coronavirus vaccine was only available via online registration only added to the towering list of problems.

Workers in their own words demanded in the report:

  • Consider the plight of laborers on a priority basis.
  • Improve vaccine supply in centres.
  • Registration should be easier: The procedure should be simplified.
  • Improve the manual/in-person registration system.
  • Vaccination should be made available for all free of cost.
  • Make it more accessible for the 18-44 age group.
  • Spread vaccination awareness in villages.
  • Do the vaccination quickly, as without work there is no food.

Beyond vaccination and health systems, the report called for a National Relief and Recovery Package to: protect life; partially compensate for lost livelihoods and income; boost demand in the economy for faster overall recovery.

“Without the direct support of such a package, simply unlocking the economy will not lead to a balanced recovery. Advanced and developing economies across the world are investing in similar state-led recovery programmes that seek to boost household income and spending, recognising the need for large scale relief and recovery interventions into the economy. India must do the same,” it said.

The package focusing on food, income and work has to cover 270 million households in all, which is about 82% of all households in India. Specifically, it should look into expanding the PDS to non-PDS card holders till November 2021 as well as the ICDS delivery for families with children. For income, the volunteers suggested undertaking crisis cash transfers of Rs. 3,000 per month for 6 months.

As many as 1,258 workers’ groups or their families received money transfers from SWAN. This comprised 7,050 people. As many as 6 percent of these groups required an additional cash transfer due to the continued lack of external aid.

The report also recommended that the government expand NREGA work entitlements to 150 days and initiate immediate public works programmes for urban employment.

The full report can be viewed below:

Related:

Rajasthan HC asks why Pak minority migrants not given Covid vaccine despite court orders
NHRC issues new advisories for bonded and migrant labourers amid Covid-19
Prime Minister is an event manager: Rahul Gandhi on govt’s Covid-19 strategy
Gov't admits that over 1 crore migrant labourers returned home on foot!

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