The plight of workers in the unorganised sector came to the centre stage during the COVID-19 pandemic, which showcased the harrowing impact on them. The eShram portal seeks to address the innate issues with the unorganised sector and improve the welfare of the workers. WIth this in mind, #IMPRI Center for Work and Welfare (CWW), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, Indian Social Institute (ISI), New Delhi, and Counterview organized a #WebPolicyTalk on e-SHRAM portal – Shramev Jayate | National Database for Unorganised Workers: Impact and Way Forward on 10th September 2021.
The event was moderated by Prof K R Shyam Sundar, Professor in HRM Area at XLRI – Xavier School of Management, Jamshedpur. Sir gave us a brief background of the topic at hand. The Ministry of Labour & Employment, which is one of the oldest and most important Ministries of the Government of India, is continuously working on improving the life and dignity of the labour force of the country by protecting & safeguarding the interest of workers, promoting welfare and providing social security to the labour force. The same is achieved in both Organized and Unorganized Sectors by enactment and implementation of various labour laws, which regulate the terms and conditions of service and employment of workers.
eSHRAM portal has been developed for creating a National Database of Unorganized Workers (NDUW), which will be seeded with Aadhaar. It will have details of name, occupation, address, educational qualification, skill types, and family details, etc. for the optimum realization of their employability and extending the benefits of the social security schemes to them. It is the first-ever national database of unorganized workers, including migrant workers, construction workers, gig and platform workers, etc.
The Need for eShram Portal
Quoting from an NHRC study published in October 2020, sir explained the need for better implementation of welfare schemes. Social protection and health care of interstate migrant workers is forsaken as a sizeable chunk of their population exists in hazardous conditions. Labour camps and housing clusters where environment cleanliness is not maintained, thus left grappling with a motley of health-related concerns. Most of the construction workers are accommodated in crowded, dingy spaces with minimum basic facilities. Access to healthcare services is ineffectual, coupled with overtime work causing severe health problems to interstate migrants.
The typical life cycle of migrant workers requires special provisions for their social security to ensure that they can adequately manage their risks. They move between States and hence between different labour markets and social security systems, which creates specific vulnerabilities. Additionally, access to social and basic services in the new host State is often restricted for many reasons. The lack of access to basic services and portability of social security for interstate migrant workers raises serious concerns about their vulnerabilities.
Lack of access to rights and entitlements poses a serious problem for migrant 13 workers. Both employers of migrant workers and government institutions at the State level or national level do not pay any attention to providing welfare measures to them. There is also a dearth of awareness about the existing legal and social security measures.
Benefits of the Portal
Mr. D. P. S. Negi, who is the Chief Labour Commissioner (Central), and Senior Labour and Employment Advisor (Additional Secretary) at Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India, defined for us the meaning of “unorganized workers.” Sir answered the use of the word “Shram” used to name the portal as it is a colloquial term in the everyday regional lexicon and explained the recent switches from formal to informal sectors and vice-versa.
There have been initial hiccups in the data collection and retrievement, but it has been ensured that there shall be eventual stabilization within a fortnight. Sir then went on to explain the benefits of the portal- It will not only register them but would also be helpful in delivering various social security schemes being implemented by the Central and State Governments. If a worker is registered on the e-SHRAM portal and meets with an accident, he will be eligible for Rs 2.0 Lakh on death or permanent disability and Rs 1.0 lakh on partial disability, and the government is always committed to the welfare of the workers.
He said that it was the self-duty of citizens to come forward and register those who are not digitally-savvy and join hands to do away with such exclusion. He then went to address attendee’s questions about allocations from Labour Ministry, the various dissemination strategies to be deployed for the scheme to reach the beneficiaries, and so on.
Implementation at the Ground-Level
Mr. Vishram Deshpande, Additional Commissioner (Retd.), Department of Labour, Government of Maharashtra; Director, Maharashtra Institute of Labour Studies (LNML MILS), voiced his apprehensions, questioning how robust the system is to be able to sustain 4 to 5 million workers per day. There were deliberations on UAN, identity card issuances, and the problems that may arise in seeding from the Northeastern segment of the country. Talking of statistics in labour-market governance, we got to know that over 90% of Indians have bank accounts.
A few dedicated NGOs and Collectives were found working on COVID- 19 relief for Inter-State Migrant Workers. These include Aajeevika Bureau in Maharashtra and Gujarat, Aid et Action in Delhi, Youth for Voluntary Action in Maharashtra, Pratham in Gujarat, Jan Sahas in Maharashtra, Haqdarshak in Gujarat, and Delhi, Praxis in Delhi, Quarantined Student Youth Network in Delhi and Maharashtra, Centre for Advocacy and Research Maharashtra, National Alliance Group for Denotified and Nomadic Tribes in Delhi, Vigyan Foundation in Delhi and Haryana, Indo-Global Social Service Society in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Delhi and Haryana, City Makers Mission International in Delhi, The Research Collective in Delhi, CORO India in Maharashtra Mumbai Mobile Creches in Delhi and Maharashtra .
In fact, India Migration Now, a research and advocacy group based in Mumbai was involved in the relief coordination of various NGOs. It is also interesting to note that, for the first time, Government of India has encouraged NGOs and voluntary organizations, on a large scale, to involve in the COVID-19 relief activities for Inter-State Migrant Workers.
He called it unpardonable apathy to exclude the poverty-stricken through schemes like these. A survey of the gig economy workers in September 2020 reveals that nearly 90% of Indian gig workers lost income during the pandemic, with more than a third making less than ₹5,000 a month in August 2020.
Dr. Sonia George, Secretary at Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), Kerala took the discussion forward, with shared anxieties and concerns towards the tedious process. She underlined the denial of basic amenities and the scanty digitisation amongst the poor, who also will have no access to CSCs, defeating the purpose of such a remedy pre-empted. She discussed how hard it will be to locate certain sectors of workers, namely domestic, as the employers can not be contacted, asking how we could bring both the organized and the unorganized under one binary.
There are multiplicities that are encountered, like those of sectors and trade domains, which further pushes out the self-employed and the entrepreneurs. In SEWA alone, there are more than 150 trades. She pondered how the courts will be notified when significant acts are merged, how the sectoral benefits will reach those who can not avail them, and what happens to those who are already registered. If digitally excluded, what happens to the workers regardless of the safeguards already there?
A section of migrant female workers has a higher prevalence of nutritional deficiencies and poor access to reproductive health services in comparison with local laborers. As a result of intense and daily exposure to toxic air, a section of interstate migrant workers, especially female migrant workers, suffer from asthma, cancer, and reproductive health complications. Limited safety information, small or poorly ventilated workspaces, and long hours of exposure to toxic air are reported.
Mr. Shaik Salauddin, the National General Secretary, Indian Federation of App Based Transport Workers (IFAT); Chairman, Telangana State Taxi and Drivers JAC; State President Telangana, Telangana Four Wheeler Driver’s Association then propelled forward voicing concerns of the gig economy and its juxtaposition with the digital world.
The digital economy is affecting the welfare and well-being of workers in both standard and non-standard employment. Platform workers like delivery boys, drivers, do not know if they fall under the ambit of IT or Transport department, are confused about who to go to, and state governments are still waiting to hear from the Centre for further clarity. Across the 4 lakh CSC centers, the servers are down and people do not have Aadhaar cards linked to their contacts. He recommended organizing robust government-sponsored camps for making the registration process easier.
The insightful talk then came to an end, with concluding statements from all the panelists.
Acknowlegment: Priyanshi Arora is a Research Intern at IMPRI