Editorial

Securing labour

| Updated on September 05, 2021

Migrant workers are most vulnerable and fall through the cracks   -  GIRI KVS

e-Shram registration, if implemented well, can enhance social security cover for unorganised sector

Recently, the Centre launched its e-Shram portal to create a national Aadhaar-seeded database of unorganised workers which it hopes to use for effectively targeting social security schemes. This is certainly not the first attempt to create a unified database for nearly 430 million unorganised workers. Under the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008, a similar attempt was made, but it resulted in the registration of just 120 million workers. But this time digitisation could make a difference. Workers can register on the portal with the help of Aadhaar and bank account details, following which they will get a 12 digit unique number. With such a system, it should be possible to target income transfers better, as the Western countries have done to support their poor (who have a social security number) since the outbreak of the pandemic. The need for cover — in the form of pension, provident fund, deposit linked insurance, maternity and accident benefits as spelt out in the Social Security Code, 2020 — to this large working population (over 80 per cent of the workforce) of self-employed, migrant and MSME workers — cannot be overemphasised. However, it is unfortunate that the SSC, like the efforts before it, does not spell out how this will be financed.

Black swan events such as Covid-19 require reaching out to the unprotected workforce. While rural distress can be contained, migrant workers fall through the cracks in the absence of any central register to enumerate them. At present, unorganised workers are registered under different welfare boards, or not at all. Of the 50 million workforce of construction workers, it is estimated that at least 15 million are not registered. Of the 35 million or more registered, about 40 per cent are not active; their registrations require renewal. This mess explains the misery of construction sector workers last year, quite apart from the tardiness of the States in ensuring that the Building and Construction Workers’ Cess created by law is used in times of crisis. Clearly, an electronic registration system that can be accessed anywhere is the need of the hour.

But for e-Shram to become a watershed, certain features require a relook. Expecting workers to sign up by themselves on the portal is unrealistic. A decentralised registration process, involving the participation of municipalities, panchayats and civil society groups, should take the place of a bureaucratised one. It should be possible for a worker to register in any centre of her convenience, rather than visit a specified office. The Centre should advertise and educate the masses. It should be easy for workers registered under other welfare boards to enlist on this portal. For those without Aadhaar, other national IDs such as voters’ card should be permitted. The e-Shram push should be backed by the money it needs. Finally, the portal should be able to handle the data of more than 400 million people. In sum e-Shram needs some hard work to get going.

Published on September 05, 2021

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