Skip to main content

Whither reforms? Pandemic 'witnessed' poor labour market governance in India

By Simi Mehta 

Eminent labour economist and professor, Human Resources Management Area at XLRI -- Xavier School of Management, Dr KR Shyam Sundar’s new book titled ‘Essays on COVID-19, Labour Market Reforms and the World of Work in India’, released at a virtual event, has been dedicated the book to the premier international academic body (co-founded by former President Shri VV Giri), the Indian Society of Labour Economics.
In the context of Covid-19, the induced pandemic, and the recent labour reforms, the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), and the Xavier School of Management organized the book discussion as part of the IMPRI series with the Centre for Work and Welfare, "The State of Employment #EmploymentDebate as ‘Impact of COVID-19, Reforms and Poor Governance on Labour Rights". The event was organized by the Indian Social Institute (ISI), New Delhi, Working People’s Charter and Counterview.
The book provides a critical analysis of the impact of the policies, laws, government regulations issued concerning workers, especially the migrant and informal workers, the poor labor market governance, and labor law reforms on labor rights in a Pandemic-struck economy in India.
It comprises essays providing a commentary on the contemporary developments during the Pandemic-hit period 2020-21 concerning migrant workers, unorganized workers, labor rights, complete failure of the governance of the labor market, the Labour Codes that were hurriedly enacted by the Union government and regional labor reforms measures.
It also discusses the responses and strategies followed by the trade unions. The book not only critically analyses the contemporary developments but also provides valuable recommendations based on the people-centred ILO approach. It is published by the well-known publisher, Synergy Books, India.
In a formal web function the book was released by Prof D Narasimha Reddy, Professor of Economics (Retired), University of Hyderabad in the presence of Prof Babu Mathew, National Law School of India University; Prof Praveen Jha, Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU); Ramapriya Gopalakrishnan, International Labour Organisation (ILO) consultant and a leading labour advocate, Chennai; and Dr Radhicka Kapoor, Senior Fellow, Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), New Delhi.
Talking about the book release, Prof KR Shyam Sundar said:
“Ever since the introduction of economic reforms in 1991 in India, employers, and critics of labor regulation have argued for the introduction of reforms of the labour laws and the inspection system. They demanded codification of labor laws and the introduction of employer-friendly reforms in the process. The Central government irrespective of the parties in power is committed to labor laws reforms, more so the NDA government. On the other hand, the trade unions have stridently argued that in the era of globalization job losses have become rampant, the quality of jobs has deteriorated considerably, and hence demand that labor laws need to be universalized and be effectively implemented.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has wrought the worst possible havoc both on the lives and livelihoods of people in all the countries. However, the adverse impact has landed far more severely on the vulnerably placed informal and unorganized workers, people below the poverty line, and thereby exacerbating existing inequalities in the economic system. ILO strongly recommended a four-pillar approach is a comprehensive and balanced approach arguing for designing policies and measures based on social dialogue to ensure employment generation, income, and social protection, and workers’ rights and support to the firm. But the tale of policy-making in India during the Pandemic does not conform much to the healthy perspective of ILO.
“My book is based on the fundamental premise that labour institutions and social dialogue are indispensable for promoting sound labor market and industrial relations policies that would at once protect both employers’ and workers’ rights and concerns, especially during the crisis-ridden crucial time such as the one we are facing now”, he said.
 Prof Shyam Sundar underlined:
“Had the government consulted the social partners is not only designing a comprehensive policy architecture to provide relief even life-saving measures especially to the small enterprises and informal workers but also in their delivery, had the government and other agencies implemented even a fraction of the even conceptually defective labor laws concerning the unorganized and the migrant workers, had the government consulted global organizations like the ILO, UN, and academics in tackling the workers’ woes, the play of pandemic in the lives of these millions of distraught workers would have been better."
When unemployment as per the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) data has been stubbornly hovering around and over seven percent, is it not worrying that India does not have a macro level unemployment allowance/insurance scheme even for the workers in the organized sector?
During 2007-2017 a total of 10,728 workers availed unemployment benefits under the stringent Employees State Insurance (ESI)-covered unemployment scheme which means an average claim of 978 workers per year! Will we see a repeat of poor labour market governance witnessed during Covid-19?
Such a question arises because we are witnessing inordinate delay in taking corrective measures such as creating a comprehensive database concerning migrant and unorganized workers and framing policies and creating governance mechanisms. The Draft Migration Policy was released just recently and the Labour Bureau is set to launch five employment surveys which though covers migrant and domestic workers strangely leave out workers in the emerging sectors like the gig and the platform economy, informal professional service providers.
These are welcome measures but there is no credible gestation plan for implementation of them. The whole tragic story of workers’ rights is the shoddy or non-implementation of even the meagerly legislated rights. A comprehensive database work and employment are essential for devising universal social protection which would help better implementation of the four Labour Codes.
When 68.4 percent of workers in the non-agricultural sector work in the informal sector, about 70 percent did not have written contracts, more than half of them did not have paid leave and any social security (Periodic Labour Force Survey [PLFS] 2018-19). Given the extreme precarity of the workforce in the non-agricultural sector which unlikely to have reduced (in fact precarity would have been intensified thanks to Covid-19), the resurgence of Covid-19 poses serious and grave concerns for workers in particular and society and economy in general.
More worryingly, the pandemic period witnessed undue haste in the enactment of the three Labour Codes and the passage of several unilateral and highly questionable legal measures and the unveiling of structural reforms like privatization and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)-easing measures. 
Worsee still, the lessons of the pandemic disasters have not led to the formation and implementation of governance reforms concerning the delivery of legally mandated reliefs to the migrant and the unorganized workers. We are witnessing Covid-resurgence and the hurt-shy migrant workers have begun their second wave of reverse migration.
Firms and workers alike are apprehensive of a potentially more severe if not a macro lockdown. In the absence of a macro unemployment benefit or insurance scheme and social security, at least Then, what is the meaning of the passage of the four Labour Codes when the historic governance deficits are still prevalent? Eventually, the passage of the Labour Codes remains more symbolic given that implementation goalposts are being delayed.
The lack of social dialogue, absence of Federal dialogue (Labour Ministers’ Conference or other appropriate federal consultations), and the unwillingness of the governments (both the Central and the state) to consult ILO for technical support in drafting the regulations would not only delay the implementation of the Labour Codes but could potentially result in poorly conceived and drafted regulations.
The lessons of the Covid-19 strongly call for the abdication of fiscal conservatism and frame a comprehensive and durable social assistance comprising direct benefit transfer as economists across spectrum and trade unions have been urging the government to extend, urban employment guarantee scheme (at least during the Covid-19 period) and strengthening of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). Lives and livelihoods are at risk once again and this time around the government must be wise as must be the people lest the damage to both the economic and social fabric of India will be severe.
Employment and work are the surest cures to both unemployment and poverty which are sure to haunt the people during Covid-19. However, Indian democracy is sturdier and its pluralistic approach is still dynamic and it is with hope I see distinct possibilities of “corrective actions” both inside the Parliament and Assemblies and outside. It is important that workers feel safe and that involves more than gestures and indirect actions like infusing liquidity in and providing no-collateral soft loans to firms, people and street vendors in the economy.
Welcoming the academics and the participants Dr Arjun Kumar, Director of IMPRI, observed:
“The author has demonstrated his versatile ability to weave the challenges in the labor market, existing industrial relations in India as well as the push factors for happening the labor reforms in the country. His insights and advocacy for ensuring decent pay and social security for the ASHA and Anganwadi workers and them to be accorded the status of ‘workers and government employees’ speaks volumes about his passion for concretizing dignified labor rights for all in India as per the standards laid down by ILO. This book is a must-read book for anybody who is interested in the concept of rights and justice for humanity.”
While releasing the book, Prof D Narasimha Reddy commented:
“Here is a book that tells you the precariousness of the migrant and informal workers during the pandemic COVID-19 due to the conscious failure of the state and the apathy of the judiciary. In much more detail it exposes the deficits of the reforms emerging in the shape of the Four Labour Codes."
Dr Radhicka Kapoor observed:
“India’s labour regulatory framework has witnessed substantial changes over the last year from the introduction of the four Labour Codes by the Central government to the relaxations and amendments made by several state governments to key labor laws. Prof Shyam Sunder’s compilation of essays not only provides a systematic exposition of these changes but also critically analyses each of them, the various shortcomings, and how these can be addressed."
One of the biggest challenges that India faces today is that of creating ‘good jobs’. Having a clear understanding of the nature of labor laws required to accelerate the pace of productive job creation is imperative. Prof Shyam Sunder’s lucid writings help us navigate the labyrinth of India’s labour regulations and understand how we can move closer to this goal.
Importantly, he urges us to expand the horizons of the debate on the subject beyond the narrow agenda of “flexibility” to issues like a minimum set of decent conditions of work and wages to all workers and a minimum basic level of social security.
Speaking on the occasion, Prof. Babu Mathew said:
“I commend this book of Prof Shyam Sundar to serious students of labor studies: One must carefully read both the explicit message and the one between the lines to decipher the glaring and I'll inform swing of the Indian State towards Ease of Doing Business while grossly neglecting core labour standards and decent conditions at work for the impoverished millions.”
Prof Praveen Jha said:
“Prof KR Shyam Sundar has been a major scholar of Industrial Relations in India and has a substantive body of work to his credit. The current book focuses on the context of the COVID 19 pandemic and its implications for the world of work. It consists of his short and incisive pieces on the devastating impacts of governance and policy failures during the pandemic on livelihoods of the working people in general and multiple deprivations they have been subjected to. Prof Sundar has chronicled these with care, empathy, and an eye for detail while providing a persuasive analysis. It is a fine balance that the book offers in terms of description and powerful insights. I recommend it as a must-read for those interested in the subject.”
Ramapriya Gopalakrishnan observed:
"The book is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding: the impact of covid-19 on the lives of workers in the country and the changes in the labor law landscape in the new normal world. I commend Synergy Books for bringing out such a book and also the author for his excellent writings."

Comments

TRENDING

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".

Examples of support to Hindu temples, scriptures, saints by 'Muslim' rulers galore

Siya Ram coin issued by Akbar By Bharat Dogra* At a time when the country as well as the world are passing through very difficult times leading to more urgent need for strengthening national unity for meeting several big challenges ahead, unfortunately disputes relating to religious places have been allowed to raise their ugly head once again. It is well-realized by now by many people that it is not historical facts but narrow considerations of political gain and spreading of fanatic ideas of intolerance which are behind such mischief, but due to the increasing threat of mob violence and patronage available at higher levels to groups spreading intolerance many people are reluctant to openly and fearlessly express their views. Hence there is urgent need for broad-based peace committees with wider social support to spread the message of communal harmony and to appeal against the dangers of spreading false messages regarding places of worship which can ultimate

Gyanvapi case: Use of 'illegal' lawfare to keep the communal pot simmering

By Venkatesh Narayanan, Bobby Ramakant, Manoj Sarang* With a steady drumbeat of bad news for the lives of ordinary citizens --  inflation at a multi-year high , rupee at an all-time low , negative job creation and when all forward indicators as seen by industry leaders point to recessionary clouds on the horizon , what’s a serially-incompetent government to do?  Dust out their time-tested-citizen-distraction playbook. The Gyanvapi-Masjid case is all of this -- as a weapon of mass distraction. This zeitgeist of our times is best captured by a recent opinion piece : "The idea is to keep the pot on a perpetual boil, simmering at the top, whirling feverishly beneath. A restless society forever living precariously on the precipice arouses distrst, uneasiness, fear and discomfort, That is a toxic panoply for manufacturing rage, which can then be effortlessly mobilized at short notice. BJP is creating an eco-system of real-time instant delivery of hate-mongers. That is how we are sudde

Targeting mosques, churches: 'Roadmap' for 2025, RSS' centenary year?

416 years old Our Lady of Health Church, Sancoale, Goa  By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*  Fascists use manipulative strategies aimed at whipping up sympathy and support from the majority community, to which they normally ‘belong’. They do so in a variety of insidious and subtle ways. In the past few months, they have gone overboard in their efforts to denigrate and demonize minorities in India, particularly Muslims and Christians. They have spewed hate and divisiveness through their venomous speeches; incited people to violence and have effectively used officialdom to further their vested interests. The results are there for all to see: greater polarisation of the majority community in a country which prided itself for its pluralism and diversity. Their meticulously planned agenda is in order to gain absolute power of the country in the 2024 national elections. More so it is also a roadmap towards 2025 when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) will complete one hundred years of its existence.

Upholding labour rights, Nehruvian scientific temper, Rajni Patel opposed Emergency

By Harsh Thakor*  Rajni Patel, who died 40 years ago, whatever his flaws, had one great quality: his human touch to offer selfless service and ability to galvanise or influence human beings from all walks of life. Few people would ever go out of the way to help someone or serve as selflessly without aim of personal gain. Rajni championed Nehruvian secular ideas and scientific temper. As a master in public relations he revealed utmost humility. As a barrister, he never appeared against the trade unions or workers. A Fabien Socialist he opposed liberal capitalism and radical socialism. Unlike most lawyers, he did not succumb to the lure of amassing wealth. Rajni was born in Sirsa, in Gujarat, on the very day Gandhi set foot on Indian soil, on 9th January, 1915. He gained his baptism through one of Gandhi's speeches calling for the boycott of foreign goods, which was the virtual turning point of his life. Rajni toed Gandhi to organise boycott of foreign goods. Rajni was able to cros

This varsity succumbed to extra-academic mobocracy, 'ignored' Hindutva archives

By Shamsul Islam* Open letter to Sharda University vice-chancellor Sub: Discarding a Question on Linkages of Hindutva with Nazism/Fascism is blatant Academic Dishonesty! Dear Professor Sibaram Khara Saheb, Namaskaar! According to your esteemed University’s portal: “The name of University, 'Sharda' is synonymous to 'Goddess of knowledge and learning-Saraswati'. She is identified with 'veena', an Indian musical instrument and the ‘lotus’, where she resides. The lotus in our logo symbolizes the seat of learning that the University is created for.  "Variety of colours signify the variety of disciplines the university offers and the overlap between petals creating new colours demonstrate the ethos of collaboration between students and teachers of different programme, nationality, creed and colour working towards creating new knowledge…the University's cherished mission to provide education beyond boundaries and to facilitate the students and faculty to achie

Whither climate goal? Increasing reliance on coal 'likely to worsen' India's power crisis

By Shankar Sharma*  Recent news articles, How to shock-proof India’s power sector and Power minister points finger at states for worsening electricity crisis , have highlighted a few current problems for the ongoing power sector issues as in April 2022. However, there is a lot more to it than a few temporary solutions as indicated in the articles. It should also be emphasised that it is techno-economically impossible to completely shock-proof a highly complex and geographically wide-spread vast power network, such as the one in India, which is only getting more and more complex with the passage of each year due to some irrational policies/ practices in the sector. A business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, wherein more and more of conventional technology power plants, including coal power plants, will be added in the near future, will also necessitate the increased complexity in the integrated national grid, and as a result the instances of power shortage/ disruptions can only escalate for

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.

A former Modi ally, Prashant Kishor wanted to enter Congress 'on contract, as trader'

By Anand Sahay*  The Congress Party and the election campaigns specialist Prashant Kishor, whose company has done strategic communications for a host of political parties across ideology, should both count themselves lucky that they could not reach an agreement for Kishor to join the party. News reports suggest that the Congress rejected Kishor’s terms. This is not wholly unexpected. People join a party because they are attracted to it, and wish to serve it in any capacity that the party may see fit. But that isn’t Kishor at all. He gave the impression of entering into a contract, as a trader might. If news reports are to be believed, he sought freedom to report directly to party chief Sonia Gandhi, and sought untrammeled control over party communications. When such ideas did not find favour, the consultant withdrew. It is clear he has no particular love for the Congress, and its ideas, ideology and politics. In contrast, look at the key personae in G-23. They

Haven't done a good deed, inner soul is cursing me as sinner: Aurangzeb's last 'will'

Counterview Desk The Tomb of Aurangzeb, the last of the strong Mughal emperors, located in Khuldabad, Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, has this epitaph inscribed on it: "Az tila o nuqreh gar saazand gumbad aghniyaa! Bar mazaar e maa ghareebaan gumbad e gardun bas ast" (the rich may well construct domes of gold and silver on their graves. For the poor folks like me, the sky is enough to shelter my grave).