A Workforce In Transition

a-workforce-in-transitionAccording to the Report of the Committee on Unorganised Sector Statistics (2012), National Statistical Commission, Government of India, the Indian economy has a preponderance of informal and unorganised sector both in terms of number of workers and enterprises. This segment of economy has inbuilt vulnerabilities, and the study of the unorganised sector based on reliable data is important for informed decision making and addressing the problems faced. The National Statistical Commission constituted a Committee on Unorganised Sector Statistics to identify major data gaps relating to unorganised enterprises and unorganised workers and to suggest ways and means for developing statistical data base on unorganised sector with standardised concepts, definitions, coverage and comparability over time and space. The report said the unorganised or informal sector constitutes a pivotal part of the Indian economy. More than 90 per cent of workforce and about 50 per cent of the national product are accounted for by the informal economy. A high proportion of socially and economically underprivileged sections of society are concentrated in informal economic activities. The high levels of growth of the Indian economy during the past two decades is accompanied by increasing informalisation. There are indications of growing interlinkages between informal and formal economic activities. There has been new dynamism of the informal economy in terms of output, employment and earnings. Faster and inclusive growth needs special attention to informal economy. Sustaining high levels of growth are also intertwined with improving domestic demand of those engaged in informal economy. Two fundamental features of the Indian economy underline the study of informal sector: (i) the overwhelming predominance of informal enterprises and informal workers and (ii) the fact that the Indian workforce is a workforce in transition. It was recognised that, in an ideal statistical system, data would be required to monitor the long run transition from a predominantly rural and agricultural economy and society to a predominantly urban and non-agricultural one.
A study on the Issues of Occupational Health and Injuries among Unskilled Female Labourers in the Construction Industry in Punjab by K. Bharara, P. Sandhu and M. Sidhu, Department of Family Resource Management, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, Punjab, found that in the urban sector, increasing numbers of workers have taken up construction work as a means of immediate employment, which provides cash earnings at the end of the day. The rural masses also migrate towards urban areas in search of jobs and get involved in this second largest occupation. It has grown much faster immediately after the Government has adopted the strategy of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation. In the year 1998, there were 111 million construction workers worldwide and the majority belonged to the developing economy like India. This is because employment intensity is much higher in the low income countries than the high income ones (Pandey 2009).
Moreover, the fatal injury rate for the construction industry is higher than the national average in the unorganised sector. It is one of the most hazardous and accident prone occupation as reported by International Labour Organization (ILO 2011).
Majority of the respondents (55.00 per cent) were in the age group of 21-30 years, followed by 37.50 percent who were of 31-40 years
Madhok (2005) also indicated in her report on National Commission on Women, that none of the women was over 40 years of age, as contractors prefer young women only. She further disclosed that as construction work is extremely taxing, most of the women are young (average age 25) having joined the workforce even before they reached their teens. Majority (97.50 per cent) of the respondents were married. It was probably due to the fact that when men migrated to construction sites, they brought their wives along, so married women were part of major female workforce.
Globally, 17 percent of all work-related fatalities are in the construction sector (ILO 2011). The construction industry is a mobile one, where the workers move from site to site. The labourers working in harsh circumstances and living in unhygienic conditions suffer from serious occupational health problems and are vulnerable to diseases. Death and injury from accidents in the Indian construction sector is widespread. India has the world’s highest accident rate among construction workers. It is one of the most hazardous and accident prone occupation as reported by International Labour Organization (ILO 2011). 165 out of every 1000 workers are injured in the construction sector. Construction work is featured by high labour turnover, constantly changing work environment and conditions on site, and different type of work being carried out simultaneously. All these factors caused by temporary nature of the job create a high-risk environment. Health hazards in the construction industry can be grouped under mechanical and non-mechanical hazards. Mechanical hazards include accidental issues from impact, penetration from scrap metal and sharp objects and crushing. Non- mechanical hazards are major cause of occupational diseases and physical problems (Chauhan and Sharma 2003).
Most of the studies undertaken since the 1980s point to the poor health of women construction workers. Basu et al. (2009) mentioned some of the health problems in their study on worksite injuries in female construction labourers included: severe muscular pain, intestinal problems, gastroenteritis, fevers, coughs and colds, pains and more serious ailments like pneumonia, tuberculosis, leprosy, etc. By and large, all the studies have documented that women have to work almost till the last day of pregnancy, and come back soon after delivery (Report by National Commission on Women (2005).
It can be thus concluded from the study that incidents of work related injuries are very high among the female labourers engaged in construction industry; primarily the occupation being severely hazardous and women lacking training and required physical endurance for such strenuous job. Accidents at such sites are waiting to happen and it is certainly not a occupation for the fairer sex. Occurrence of diseases is also due to hazards of work place like lot of dust, chemicals, harsh climatic conditions, no place to even pass urine (leading to urinary tract infection), no drinking water facility and heavy load carrying leading to musculoskeletal disorders. However, since women have this occupation as first available job opportunity especially when they migrate to mega cites, there is a need to at least devise laws and other compensations to safeguard welfare of such women by Government and employing agencies.

Importance Of Unorganised Sectors

In view of the importance of the unorganised sector in the Indian economy, it is not only desirable but essential that the workers in this sector, whose employment is of a contractual character beset with uncertainty, should be given due protection by the state. It is, however, unfortunate that this large segment of the workforce has continued to be neglected and the vested interest groups have continued to plead that enactment of legislation and other regulatory measures of social protection will adversely affect the existing mechanism prevailing in the informal sector as any intervention is likely to lead to market imperfections creating hurdles in the smooth functioning of the market and economy. Besides, it would also necessitate huge infrastructure and institutional arrangements involving substantial finance. It needs no emphasis that the Government has to play the role of a facilitator and promoter to protect the workers in the informal sector so that they not only have a sense of security but at the same time have a decent work environment enabling them to participate in the mainstream of development. The problems in the unorganised sectors are multifarious in nature. The contractual nature of work, lack of skilled labourer, unemployment, and poverty makes the problem grievous. A half-hearted effort of the Government to provide the solution is far from satisfactory. The cooperation of NGOs, private people in addition with the efforts of govt may help to ameliorate the deplorable condition of workers in the unorganised sectors. From economic point of view it is highly essential to provide security to the workers in the unorganised sectors because sufficient availability of workforce had made them vulnerable to exploitation. It is the duty as well as responsibility of govt to undertake sufficient measures to provide protection to the workers. Wage and self employment programmes are important promotional measures for social security. Public works programmes serve useful purpose for unskilled labourers particularly in drought years. However, they add only supplementary income to the families. It may be noted that economic growth and human development should go together in order to create opportunities for the unorganised sector workers.
Source : International Journal of Research in Economics & Social Sciences


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