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

ISKCON UK 'clarifies' after virus infects devotees, 5 die due to big temple meet

By Rajiv Shah
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), United Kingdom (UK), has admitted that at least 21 of its devotees were infected because of the spread of the coronavirus amongst the UK devotee community following the March 12 funeral and March 15 memorial of the Bhaktivedanta Manor temple president, in which about 1,000 people participated. Regretting that five of the devotees have passed away, the top Hindu religious in Britain body does not deny more may have been infected.

Mallika Sarabhai releases speech she was 'not allowed' to give at NID Convocation on Feb 7

Counterview Desk
The National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad, a Ministry of Commerce and Industry body, landed itself in controversy following its decision to put off its 40th convocation ceremony, where noted danseuse Mallika Sarabhai was invited as chief guest. The ceremony was scheduled to be held on February 7.

As corona virus 'travels' to rural areas, NGO begins training tribals, marginalised women

By Souparno Chatterjee*
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared corona virus a pandemic. Originating from Wuhan in China, it has traversed the entire globe, almost, and claimed more than 16,000 lives already. That’s largely the urban population. In India, despite all the preparedness and war-like promptness to safeguard against the pandemic, several lives have been lost , and hundreds of individuals have tested positive.

Rani Laxmi Bai, Tatya Tope 'martyred' by East India Company, Scindia's forefathers

By Our Representative
In an email alert to Counterview, well-known political scientist Shamsul Islam has said that was “shameful for any political party in democratic India to keep children of Sindhias in their flock” given their role during the First War of Indian Independence (1857). In a direct commentary on Madhya Pradesh Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia moving over to BJP, Prof Islam has quote from a British gazetteer to prove his point.

Modi, Shah 'forget': Gandhi’s first Satyagraha was against citizenship law of South Africa

By Nachiketa Desai*
Hindu fanatic Nathuram Godse assassinated Mahatma Gandhi once on January 30, 1948 but his followers raising the war cry of ‘Jai Sriram’ are killing the Mahatma every day. In his home state of Gujarat, Gandhiji was killed a thousand times in 2002 when over 2,000 Muslims were butchered, their women raped, homes and shops plundered and set on fire and even unborn babies ripped out of the wombs of their mothers.

COVID-19: Dalit rights bodies regret, no relief plan yet for SCs, STs, marginalized

By Our Representative
In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the National Dalit Watch-National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, endorsed* by several other Dalit rights organizations, have insisted, the Government of India should particular care of the scheduled castes and tribes, trans folks, persons with disabilities and the women and children from these communities, while fighting against COVID-19 pandemic.

Coronavirus scare ‘pushing’ people from Northeast India into more hardship

By Rishiraj Sinha, Biswanath Sinha*
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background or his religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” – Nelson Mandela
***

Gujarat govt plan to 'banish' Gandhian activist anti-democratic, unconstitutional

By Rohit Prajapati*
The current Central and Gujarat governments, and their bureaucracy, have been and are still unable to answer and address the concerns raised, with facts, figures, and constitutional provisions, regarding the terror of tourism in the name of the Statue of Unity and tourism projects surrounding it.

Gujarat construction workers walk home as Rs 2,900 crore welfare fund lies unused

By Our Representative
Situated behind the Gujarat University, some of the families of the migrant construction workers from Dahod and Panchmahals districts of Gujarat, and a few from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, who had stayed put in make-shift shanties in Ahmedabad’s sprawling GMDC Ground, have begun a long journey, by foot, back to their home villages in the eastern tribal belt of Gujarat.