Workers to Govt: Give Us Right to Employment, or You’ll Lose Sleep

Around 4,000 workers gathered in the capital to claim their Right to Employment, will the government pay any heed?

Updated
India
8 min read
Around 4,000 workers gathered in the capital to claim their Right to Employment, will the government pay any heed?
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“Where are the 2 crore jobs as promised by the BJP before coming to power?” asks Madhur Saurav, a resident of Patna, anger palpable in his voice as he further lamented:

You’re full of hopes as a student only to realise that survival in the job market is not that easy. A job with a monthly salary of Rs 15,000 means a lot to me as it can help me cope with daily expenses in a city like Patna.
Madhur Saurav, who completed his diploma in engineering in 2007
Madhur Saurav, a resident of Patna, claims he had to work for ten hours daily at a measly salary of Rs 4,000.
Madhur Saurav, a resident of Patna, claims he had to work for ten hours daily at a measly salary of Rs 4,000.
(Photo: Akanksha Kumar)

Madhur was among 4,000 workers from five states – Delhi, Haryana, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, and Maharashtra – who had gathered at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan on 25 March demanding their Right to Employment. After completing his diploma in engineering from a technical institute in Punjab in 2007, Madhur worked in Delhi for two years only to return to his native place in 2012 due to a personal crisis. Since then, finding a job that pays enough has been a struggle, forcing Madhur to take to the streets.

In Patna, I had to work for ten hours at a measly salary of Rs 4,000; to top it all there was no legit paperwork on part of the employer.
Madhur Saurav
Around 4,000 workers from five states had gathered at Ramlila ground on 25 March asking for their Right to Employment.
Around 4,000 workers from five states had gathered at Ramlila ground on 25 March asking for their Right to Employment.
(Photo: Akanksha Kumar)

On a day when the entire country was celebrating Ram Navami on 25 March, people representing India’s informal sector participated in a march to the Parliament as they displayed placards with slogans such as ‘Education and employment is my birth right’. All of them think that a new law, the Bhagat Singh National Employment Guarantee Act (BSNEGA), will get rid of their misery.

The slogan ‘Sabko shiksha, sabko kaam, warna hogi neend haram (ensure education and employment else you will lose your sleep)’, echoed as the procession tried to warn politicians not to ignore the problem of job scarcity in an election year.

Monthly unemployment allowance and increasing the scope of MGNREGA from 100 to 365 days is among the demands being made by the protesters.
Monthly unemployment allowance and increasing the scope of MGNREGA from 100 to 365 days is among the demands being made by the protesters.
(Photo: Akanksha Kumar)

Demand for Bhagat Singh National Employment Guarantee Act (BSNEGA)

On 19 March 2018, INLD leader Dushyant Chautala asked the Union Minister of State for Labour and Employment Santosh Kumar Gangwar whether the government has set any targets for job-creation between 2017-19. Gangwar’s reply left everyone stunned as he told the Parliament, “No target has been set by the government.”

The EUS (Employment Unemployment Survey) for 2011-12 conducted by the labour ministry had estimated that 75 percent of the workforce in rural areas and 69 percent of those employed in urban areas belong to the informal sector. Economists have pointed out earlier that since the informal sector doesn’t come under the tax net of the government, it continues to suffer due to lack of policy initiatives.

The protest had the following charter of demands:

  • Provide permanent employment at the level of village as well as city and provide minimum unemployment allowance of Rs 10,000 per month.
  • Expand the scope of MGNREGA from 100 days to 365 days and ensure timely payment.
  • Contractual labour should be abolished.
  • Include the ‘Right to Employment’ as part of fundamental rights.
  • Fill vacant posts at the level of Centre as well as the states with immediate effect and ensure timely appointments.
Women protesters waiting for the march to begin.
Women protesters waiting for the march to begin.
(Photo: Akanksha Kumar)

‘Regularisation Will Help Our Future Generations’

Joining the congregation of protesters outside Zakir Hussain College were a few hundred women, representing the Anganwadi Workers’ Union, who have been trying to build pressure on the Delhi government for a hike in their monthly salaries since July last year.

Wearing a badge saying ‘Volunteer’, Monica Sharma, who has been employed as an anganwadi worker in south Delhi’s Badarpur for the last ten years, says, “I want a permanent job that can ensure timely salary.”

Monica Sharma, an anganwadi worker in Badarpur, claims there is a delay of at least three to four months in payment of their salaries.
Monica Sharma, an anganwadi worker in Badarpur, claims there is a delay of at least three to four months in payment of their salaries.
(Photo: Akanksha Kumar)

Since 1975, an anganwadi or creche has emerged as a learning centre for children aged between 3-6 years in rural and semi-urban areas. There are two staff members at an anganwadi – a worker who ensures children are fed on time, as well as engages them in various activities that helps in psychological development of kids, and a helper who aids her superior. It was a voluntary role with the Delhi government agreeing to pay a monthly remuneration of Rs 200 to an Anganwadi worker and Rs 100 to a helper in 2001 which was increased to Rs 500 per month for a worker and Rs 200 per month for a helper in 2006.

In 2012, the Delhi government led by Sheila Dikshit increased the monthly remuneration of an Anganwadi worker to Rs 5,000 per month and that of a helper to Rs 2,500 per month.

Our salary usually comes after three to four months, there are a few women anganwadi workers who haven’t received their salaries since April last year. We are tired of submitting written applications regarding delay in salary to our supervisor.
Monica Sharma (Anganwadi worker from Badarpur, Delhi)
Following protests for 62 days last year by Anganwadi workers, the Delhi government had assured of hike in salary, the proposal is awaiting approval by the LG.
Following protests for 62 days last year by Anganwadi workers, the Delhi government had assured of hike in salary, the proposal is awaiting approval by the LG.
(Photo: Akanksha Kumar)

Monica’s husband is employed in a small company, a job she says he could quit anytime, after he suffered losses as a shopkeeper. While her son is pursuing graduation, Monica’s daughter is in class 9.

Both me and my husband try and save every penny to ensure that our children get quality education.

Monica’s exasperation over low salary turns into anger as she shares how anganwadi workers are exploited by the government that burdens them with additional work but doesn’t pay attention to their woes regarding pay.

Apart from our regular responsibilities, we are often asked to conduct a survey of animals, do work related to census (official survey of population), link Aadhaar and perform the duty of a Booth Level Officer (BLO) during elections. Since last three years, we haven’t received even a single rupee for carrying out the duties of a BLO.
Monica Sharma, Anganwadi worker, Badarpur, Delhi

Last year, in March, the NDA government had announced that it would extend the facilities of PF (Provident Fund) and ESI (Employees’ State Insurance) to anganwadi workers. However, nothing has moved on this front.

Following the 62-day long protests by anganwadi workers last year, the Kejriwal-led AAP government had sent a proposal to the LG regarding hike in monthly remuneration which has been gathering dust since then.

Is the Right to Employment Feasible?

Can the Right to Employment ensure a secure future for people like Praveen? Sanjay Ruparelia, Associate Professor of politics at the New School for Social Research in New York, believes protests in the name of employment reflect insecurity among the workers belonging to the informal sector.

The fact that informal sector workers are demanding a right to work clearly reflects their persistent material insecurities and the enormous disparities they experience vis-a-vis formal sector workers regarding wages, conditions, stability of employment. Establishing a right to work may help – depending on its actual terms – protect such workers from destitution.
Sanjay Ruparelia, Associate Professor of Politics, New School for Social research (New York)

Ruparelia had authored a research paper in 2013 talking about the pros and cons of rights-based entitlements, a characteristic feature of the erstwhile UPA government.

Workers who participated in the protests on 25 March in Delhi are demanding that a new law should be passed that can ensure jobs for all.
Workers who participated in the protests on 25 March in Delhi are demanding that a new law should be passed that can ensure jobs for all.
(Photo: Akanksha Kumar)

‘Remuneration Should be on an Hourly Basis’

“I can only write my name,” says Poonam, as she smiles hesitantly when I asked her about educational qualification. Originally a resident of Mahoba, Poonam has been living with her husband in Delhi since 2002. While her husband is a daily wage labourer at a factory, Poonam is a maid by profession. She washes dishes and cleans daily at three houses in her neighbourhood. Though she doesn’t have any specific complaint against her employers, Poonam is finding it difficult to manage her expenses with the money being offered as tankhwah (monthly salary).

Since the prices are increasing, our salaries should also be hiked accordingly. Ghar ka kharcha theek se nahi chal pata hai (It is difficult to manage household expenses).
Poonam, Housemaid

Poonam is from Mahoba, in UP’s Bundelkhand region, known for large-scale migration as there are hardly any opportunities in the area.

Perhaps that explains why her parents decided to marry their daughter to a boy working in Delhi. Poonam gets around Rs 5,000 from three houses where she works all seven days a week without a chutti (weekly off). Her husband’s salary is Rs 4,000. An income of Rs 9,000 is simply not enough as Poonam is keen on hiring a private tutor for her school-going children.

The Delhi government insists on hiring maids through placement agencies but hasn’t bothered to fix minimum wages for thousands of women like Poonam whose daily toil is not enough to ensure a steady income.

Poonam who works as a maid at three houses wants payment to be on the basis of hours they put in daily.
Poonam who works as a maid at three houses wants payment to be on the basis of hours they put in daily.
(Photo: Akanksha Kumar)

'A Job Where Humans Are Treated as Machines'

Wearing a blue denim jean and a purple check shirt, Praveen could easily come across as an IT professional. This 24-year-old, who hails from Kaithal district in Haryana, is unemployed since 2015 after he left his job at the Maruti plant in Gurugram due to poor working conditions.

I left my job due to heavy workload. I used to work on lifts attached to a machine that inserts parts in an automobile. On several occasions, there were instructions from the top to produce more, following which the speed of the machine would be increased. Man didn’t work on machines, it was the other way around out there.
Praveen

Disillusioned with his stint in the private sector, Praveen has been applying for various government jobs and is studying at a coaching centre as well in a bid to crack competitive exams.

Since 2015, I have sat for the Railways, SSC and clerical exams; problem is that lakhs are vying for a single vacancy.
Praveen
24-year-old Praveen left his job at Maruti plant in Gurugram due to poor working conditions.
24-year-old Praveen left his job at Maruti plant in Gurugram due to poor working conditions.
(Photo: Akanksha Kumar)

Praveen thinks that a monthly unemployment allowance under the proposed Bhagat Singh National Employment Guarantee Act (BSNEGA) will be of help till he finds a permanent job. While Praveen and others might sound optimistic about the intended benefits of BSNEGA, fact is that merely granting a right is simply not enough. Despite the enforcement of the Right to Information Act, corruption continues to plague numerous welfare schemes. Similarly, the Right to Food Act was passed in 2013, yet 11-year-old Santoshi Kumar dies of starvation in Jharkhand as rations were denied to her family for not linking ration card with Aadhaar.

Experts like Ruparelia feel that it will be governance at the local level which will ensure the efficiency of a rights-based regime:

We ultimately need to transform how local panchayats and state bureaucracies function and view the claims of poor rural citizens. Parties and movements have to help mobilise them collectively to claim their rights.
Sanjay Ruparelia, Associate Professor of Politics, New School for Social research (New York)

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