‘92 percent of Indian laborers are engaged in the unorganized sector while the organized segment constitutes the remaining 8 percent’ (Sakthivel and Joddar, 2006). Unorganized labor refers to the labor that does not require any qualification to get access into the employment zone and earn their living because the sector they are entering into doesn’t necessitate them to hold a graduation degree for minimum wage work. Therefore, the majority of the rural and a lump sum population in the urban sector is engaged in the unorganized sector, even including the farming sector. The agricultural economy which has been the backbone of the country’s economy also falls under the unorganized sector. Other ‘oddly easy’ jobs accessible are rickshaw pulling, sewing and tailoring, construction site workers, security guard jobs, workers in hotels and restaurants and many more.
Unorganized sector employs both men and women but their struggles and challenges are different in nature, slightly putting women into more problematic situations, with different benefits.
This report is based on the subject of the informal sector that employs innumerous workers. The conditions of these labor with a special focus on women is the subject matter of this report and an efficient effort is made to realize the reality of these informal or unorganized labor. An honest approach to the institutions aiding these unorganized labor in relation to social and financial security systems is made and it is further divided into subparts to categorically analyze the issues of the unorganized labor.
Unorganized Labor Issues: An Overview
The labor involved in the unorganized sector face many issues in the short and long run. The short run is obviously the day to day regular life but the long run issues emerge from the lack of assets, savings, backups and any kind of financial and social support. Now these issues are triggered by the lack of any kind of education and awareness regarding any new governmental policies or intervention that could help them. Further, the major issues of the informal sector workers are emphasized upon to understand their condition better. Primarily, there is a job insecurity because this sector does not work according to the policies of the government and does not provide any assurance of job permanency and since the lack of education that these laborers have, they are left with no choice but to be a part of this casual labor system. This makes it challenging to plan for the future and achieve financial stability.
Since this is a casual job arrangement and they can be replaced at any time, therefore the wages are minimum and sometimes even below minimum. With minimum wages, they are also for believable reasons, are not provided with any healthcare, any financial guidance, insurance or at the least, a paid leave. Moreover, they will typically miss out on employment benefits like overtime pay, job security, and protection from unfair labor practices. This makes them more susceptible to exploitation. They are more susceptible to economic shocks, such as layoffs or unforeseen health expenses, due to their lack of financial security and support systems.
Consequently, unorganized labor may not enjoy the same legal protections as organized labor. This can leave them vulnerable to workplace abuses, such as unsafe working conditions, long working hours, and wage theft and this further provoked because unorganized workers often lack the ability to collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions. They may not have the support of labor unions to negotiate with employers. Unions play an important role in getting these casual workers more income. This is testified in a study conducted in Maharashtra. ‘The study showed that firms with unions paid the unskilled and skilled workers about 17 per cent more than those without unions’ (Sharma, 2006). Consequently, the gender bias was also seen through this study as ‘the greater the share of women in employment, lower was the wage paid both to the unskilled and skilled male worker’ (Sharma, 2006).
Since they are part of the informal sector and do not earn enough, many unorganized workers engage in informal and off-the-books work, which can lead to difficulties in accessing social safety nets and government services. Their engagement in such activities is an expected result of lack of skills and skill development environment and this hinders their ability to improve their employability and income prospects.
Then comes the aspect of exploitation. Although they are already very much exploited, more often than not, caste and religion also play a subtle role in marginalization and lack of employment opportunities in even the informal sector. Other social groups like women, children and aged people face additional challenges. Exploitation is also experienced by these workers when they are not provided occupational safety, that is, they frequently work in hazardous and unsafe conditions, which can lead to workplace accidents and health issues.
Further, they reside in the invisible sector of the economy, which is actually the biggest contributor in the economy. Another factor that comes into play is that they are recognized in relation to their mechanized jobs or to their source of employment and not as separate individual humans, that is, for instance, rickshaw pullers are not seen as individuals but just a whole rickshaw. Secondly, these informal sector employees are majorly migrated pupils of the rural areas, like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, due to lack of employment opportunities. Now the question of farming and agriculture, which is also part of this unorganized sector needs to be answered. The farming and agriculture is a seasonal thing not enough to serve a family of eight in which only two members are working and earning. Therefore, this migration and taking up of easily accessible jobs is necessary for this labour.
Lack of state policies or regulation also play an important role in this reality. ‘The bulk of labour laws in the country are colonial in nature whose basic purpose seems to augment the industrial production by ensuring an enduring peace at whatever social cost’ (Pandey, 2010). Historically even, the unorganized or the informal sector workers have been suffering with minimal attention given to them by the government.
Special Focus: Women in the Unorganized Sector
Women have been the silent supporters in society and in the household. Given that their domestic labor goes absolutely unnoticed, to add onto it, their professional labor also to a major extent has been considered not of much importance, given that the men were always the breadwinners, minimizing the contributions of the women to just the household and a subordinating level. ‘Self Employed Women’s Association workers making a variety of goods in (SEWA), was perhaps the first trade union to consciously begin to organize workers in the informal sector. Initially, in the early seventies, SEWA found a great deal of resistance even to the idea of women in this sector. Most people believed that to qualify as a worker a person had to be an employee, the problem being compounded by the belief that women were not workers but only wives and mothers.’ (Jhabvala, 2013).
Although, the unregistered amount of employment from women is proportionally higher than that of men as women get employed easily into all the informal sector jobs, either as a backhand support or as the direct worker, they face the brunt of the discrimination intensely as they wound up at the most vulnerable position in the hierarchy of this social distribution. The wage rate, societal behavior and familial oppression are some of the other issues of women that get overlooked, when they are seen collectively with their families. Lack of education is a definite factor here which obviously affects women more than women. Moreover, there are no maternity leaves and healthcare for them which makes it dangerous for both the mother and the child.
With the generalized exploitation in wages and long working hours with job insecurity, women laborers are more prone to sexual harassment and family pressure, as they are responsible for household management and caregiving duties, making it hard for them to manage their work life balance. To add onto it, there are no cold safety nets that women are provided with, when they have to carry their toddlers with them to their work.
Women also are under pressure to constantly be active in both the personal and professional arena, where in contrast to them, men can kick back and relax at the end of the day with some intoxication. This in now way denies the challenges of the men but their benefits of being a man, irrespective of being employed in unorganized sector, need to be highlighted. It gets next to impossible challenging when instead of contributing and supporting, the ‘breadwinners’ also become a liability for the women to look after, which is most commonly the case involving drugs, alcohol and other intoxicants. In that case, women become the sole earners of the family, leaving them as the only household caregiver.
There has been a long debate on whether women have the autonomy to work and the underlying discrimination that they face in their workspace, either it be formal or informal. ‘Due to social hindrances, women have very low horizontal as well as vertical mobility and have to remain contended with lower wages’ (Sangappa & Kavle, 2010). As already mentioned, the involvement of women affects the wages therefore that is another factor as to why women are financially dependent on their male counterparts especially in the informal sector.
To conclude this report, it is easy and safe to infer that the challenges faced by these unorganized labor need to be minimized and a constant spotlight needs to be on their wellbeing. Even though there has been recognizable government intervention in recent time, but there need to be more efforts from both public and the state to help them in terms of safety and security as well. They need to be enrolled in financial and social security systems like have a bank account, insurance and healthcare. Although recently some changes have been made and there are schemes like PMSBY, APA, PMJJBY and others to help them get enrolled and have a bank account for their own financial safety. For medical benefits, PMJAY has been introduced to help underprivileged families.
The role of women needs to be given more attention and importance with basic medical services during pregnancy and in general as well in the sense that women themselves and the authorities understand the subtle discrimination that without a hesitation is enmeshed in the system of casual labours.
A little focus on education and societal awareness for unorganized laborers so that they can develop their skills and work towards better financial stability and backup employment options. Also, better working conditions with improved wage rate would help them more.
Secondly, whatever work has been done on the women’s conditions and struggles in the informal sector has been hugely done by SEWA only. The lack of involvement from any other organization or institution only supports the mistreatment of women and their lack of opportunities of employment.
Jhabvala, Renana. 2013. Informal Workers & the Economy. : Indian Journal of Industrial Relations, January 2013, Vol. 48, No. 3, Special Issue on Unorganized Workers (January 2013), pp. 373-386.
Pandey, Prasad Rajender.2010. GLOBALIZATION AND LEGAL PROTECTION OF LABOUR IN INDIA. The Indian Journal of Political Science, JAN. – MAR., 2010, Vol. 71, No. 1 (JAN. – MAR., 2010), pp. 133-144.
Sakthivel, S. and Joddar, Pinaki. 2006. Unorganised Sector Workforce in India: Trends, Patterns and Social Security Coverage. Economic and Political Weekly, May 27 – Jun. 2, 2006, Vol. 41, No. 21 (May 27 – Jun. 2, 2006), pp. 2107-2114
https://www.jstor.org/stable/4418266Sharma, N Alakh.2006. Flexibility, Employment and Labour Market Reforms in India. Economic and Political Weekly, May 27 – Jun. 2, 2006, Vol. 41, No. 21 (May 27 – Jun. 2, 2006), pp. 2078-2085.
Author – Niharika Gupta