Skip to main content

Poor earnings, no social security, unprotected by law: Plight of India's 'stigmatized' jobs

By Sumeet Mhaskar*
All the stigmatized occupations fall in the informal economy. An exception is in the case of sanitation workers, a tiny minority among whom is part of the organized workforce. As per the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970 employers are required to hire labour on a regular employment basis for jobs that are perennial in nature.
Given the fact that sanitation work is perennial in nature, the overwhelming majority of sanitation workers should have been part of the organized workforce. However, state authorities in connivance with contractors have found ways to defy contract labour regulations and hire majority of the sanitation workforce on a contractual basis.
For instance, the contract labour regulations are applicable to establishments that hire more than 20 workers. To bypass this provision, the Mumbai municipal corporation has been outsourcing sanitation work to over 200 contractors who hire less than 20 workers. Although hired on contractual basis, sanitation workers have the right to demand permanent employment if they were engaged continuously for 240 days under the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947. This provision too is by-passed as contractors hire workers for 210 days and then subsequently hire them on a new contract.
Due to the contractual arrangement, sanitation workers are then deprived of all other social security benefits that are available to a regular employee such as paid leave, gratuity, bonus, medical facilities and retirement benefits. One, therefore, encounters sanitation workers and manual scavengers with lower wages.
At times, there is a great deal of disparity among them too. For instance, a permanent sanitation worker of the municipal corporation draws a monthly salary of say INR 25,000. The same employee, after working for nearly 15-20 years, draws a monthly salary that ranges from INR 90,000 to INR 120,000 per month as per the seventh pay commission. In addition to salary, permanent workers are also eligible for wide-ranging social security benefits.
On the other hand, the contract workers are paid on a daily basis and the salary can range between INR 6000 to INR 11,000 per month. Besides, as contract workers, it is a complicated process for them to claim compensations in case of death, especially while cleaning sewers.
The employment conditions of rag pickers are complicated by the fact that they are considered self-employed and therefore there is no legal relationship between the scrap collector, who are at the lowest rung in the urban informal economy, and the municipality or its traders. 
This is despite the fact that some of the waste picking activity is organized through contractors. As a result, their work is not legally recognized, and it is not uncommon for the waste pickers to experience ‘abuse, unwarranted suspicion and harassment from the police, municipal workers and citizens’.
In terms of their earnings, on an average waste pickers earn about INR 50 per day. A study on the Delhi waste pickers found something unusual. A section of the waste pickers belonging to a village in the eastern Uttar Pradesh had registered themselves under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGA). A few of them even returned to claim the 100 days guaranteed employment under the scheme.
While the proportion is small it is nonetheless an interesting finding as to what the state led employment programmes can achieve. The working conditions of workers in the butchering and leather industry is more or less similar to what has been explained so far.
In the case of leather industry, the Factories Act, 1948 prohibits women and children from working in these industries. However, employers have been flouting these regulations resulting in an illegal expansion of the leather industry where women belonging to Dalit castes are hired. Given the illegality involved in the hiring, the employees are neither in a position to claim legal protection nor any other benefits under welfare schemes offered by the central, state or local governments.
Besides, the wages women receive are consolidated and they do not receive any additional payment for any extra work done by them. As for butchering, the spatial location for these occupations has almost always been on the fringes of the locality. The rapid expansion of cities in the 20th century has meant that the slaughter houses increasingly acquired central spaces and were gradually shifted to the outskirts.
The ban on beef in several Indian states has complicated this situation further. All the occupations explained above have undergone transformations. One of the ways of improving working conditions has been the mechanization of work. While this seems like a way ahead, it is at times met with hostility by the workers themselves due to the fact that the introduction of such technologies does not accompany alternative jobs for the potentially redundant workers.
Moreover, the technological transformation of occupations has little if any positive bearing for the workforce. In some cases, such as the use of chemicals for tanning the leather resulted in health complications for the workforce. This aspect is explored in the following section.
---
*This is the second part of the three part series on the state of stigmatized occupations in India, excerpted from “The State of Stigmatized Employment in India: Historical Injustices of Labouring”, published by Oxfam Inida in the book “Mind the Gap: The State of Employment in India”. Click HERE to download

Comments

TRENDING

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

How lead petitioner was rendered homeless when GM mustard matter came up in SC

By Rosamma Thomas*  On January 5, 2023, the Supreme Court stayed a December 20, 2022 direction of the Uttarakhand High Court to the Indian Railways and the district administration of Haldwani to use paramilitary forces to evict thousands of poor families occupying land that belonged to the railways.  Justice AS Oka remarked that it was not right to order the bringing in of paramilitary forces. The SC held that even those who had no rights, but were living there for years, needed to be rehabilitated. On December 21, 2022, just as she was getting ready to celebrate Christmas, researcher Aruna Rodrigues was abruptly evicted from her home in Mhow Cantonment, Madhya Pradesh – no eviction notice was served, and nearly 30 Indian Army soldiers bearing arms were part of the eviction process. What is noteworthy in this case is that the records establishing possession of the house date back to 1892 – the title deed with the name of Dr VP Cardoza, Rodrigues’ great grandfather, is dated November 14

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Tax buoyancy claims when less than 4% Indian dollar millionaires pay income tax

By Prasanna Mohanty  In FY18, the last year for which disaggregated income tax data is available, only 29,002 ITRs declared income above Rs 5 crore, while Credit Suisse said India had 7.25 lakh dollar millionaires (the wealth equivalent of Rs 8 crore and above) that year. Often enough, the Centre claims that demonetization in 2016 raised tax collections, improved tax efficiency, and expanded the tax base. Now RBI Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) member Ashima Goyal has also joined their ranks, attributing the “claims” of rising tax collections in the current fiscal year to “tax buoyancy” brought by the demonetisation . Do such claims have any basis in official records? The answer is unequivocal. The budget documents show the tax-to-GDP ratio (direct plus indirect tax) increased from 10.6% in FY16 (pre-demonetization) to 11.2% in FY17, remained there in FY18 (demonetization and GST fiscals), and then fell to 9.9% in FY20. In FY22, it improved to 10.8% and is estimated to drop to 10.7% in

Gandhian unease at Mahadev Desai book launch: Sabarmati Ashram may lose free space

By Rajiv Shah  A simmering apprehension has gripped the Gandhians who continue to be trustees of the Sabarmati Ashram: the “limited freedom” to express one’s views under the Modi dispensation still available at the place which Mahatma Gandhi made his home from 1917 to 1930 may soon be taken away. Also known as Harijan Ashram, a meeting held for introducing yet-to-be-released book, “Mahadev Desai: Mahatma Gandhi's Frontline Reporter”, saw speaker and after speaker point towards “narrowing space” in Gujarat for Gandhians (as also others) to express themselves. Penned by veteran journalist Nachiketa Desai, grandson of Mahadev Desai, while the book was planned to be released on January 1 and the meeting saw several prominent personalities, including actor-director Nandita Das, her scholar-mother Varsha Das, British House of Lords member Bhikhu Parekh, among others, speak glowingly about the effort put in for bringing out the book, exchanges between speakers suggested it should be rele

Civil rights leaders allege corporate loot of resources, suppression of democratic rights

By Our Representative  Civil rights activists have alleged, quoting top intelligence officers as also multiple international forensic reports, that recent developments with regard to the Bhima Koregaon and the Citizenship Amendment Act-National Register of Citizens (CAA-NRC) cases suggest, there was "no connection between the Elgaar Parishad event and the Bhima Koregaon violence." Activists of the Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) told a media event at the HKS Surjeet Bhawan, New Delhi, that, despite this, several political prisoners continue to be behind bars on being accused under the anti-terror the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Addressed by family members of the political prisoners, academics, as well as social activists, it was highlighted how cases were sought to be fabricated against progressive individuals, democratic activists and intellectuals, who spoke out against "corporate loot of Indian resources, suppression of basic democratic

Kerala natural rubber producers 'squeezed', attend to their plight: Govt of India told

By Rosamma Thomas   Babu Joseph, general secretary of the National Federation of Rubber Producers Societies (NFRPS) at a recent discussion at Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, explained that it is high time the Union government paid greater heed to the troubles plaguing the rubber production sector in India – rubber is a strategic product, important for the military establishment and for industry, since natural rubber is still used in the manufacture of tyres for large vehicles and aeroplanes. Synthetic rubber is now quite widespread, but styrene, which is used in making synthetic rubber and plastics, and also butadiene, another major constituent of synthetic rubber, are both hazardous. Prolonged exposure to these even in recycled rubber can cause neurological damage. Kerala produces the bulk of India’s natural rubber. In 2019-20, Kerala’s share in the national production of rubber was over 74%. Over 20% of the gross cropped area in the state is under rubber cultivation, with total

Why no information with Assam state agency about female rhino poaching for a year?

By Nava Thakuria   According to official claims, incidents of poaching related to rhinoceros in various forest reserves of Assam in northeast India have decreased drastically. Brutal laws against the poachers, strengthening of ground staff inside the protected forest areas and increasing public awareness in the fringe localities of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across the State are the reasons cited for positively impacting the mission to save the one-horned rhinos. Officials records suggest, only two rhinos were poached in Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve since 1 January 2021 till date. The last incident took place probably in the last week of December 2021, as a decomposed carcass of a fully-grown (around 30 years old) female rhino was recovered inside the world-famous forest reserve next month. As the precious horn was missing, for which the gigantic animal was apparently hunted down, it could not be a natural death. Ironically, however, it was not confirmed when

Lack of welfare schemes, BSF curbs force West Bengal farmers to migrate far away

Counteview Desk  In a representation to the National Human Rights Commission chairperson, a senior West Bengal based activist has complained that villagers living near the border with Bangladesh are forced to migrate to as far away as Mumbai and Kerala because of lack of government sensitivity towards their welfare in original villages. Giving specific instances, Kirity Roy, secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), said, if the Border Security Force (BSF) had not put any restriction on agricultural activities, and if villages had properly implemented welfare schemes, these people would never migrate to other States. Text: I want to attract your immediate attention to the inhumane condition of the migrated workers of Gobra village, Swarupnagar Block in North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal to seek your urgent intervention to protect the rights of these people. Gobra is a village situated near the Indo-Bangladesh Border where the border fencing is about 500 meters i