2nd August, 2006
Legislative Protection for Women Workers in the Unorganized Sector
Unorganized sector Workers number 37 crores i.e. 93% of the Indian Workers of which substantial numbers are women. Women workers constitute a sizable segment of the workforce in the unorganized sector. The lack of visibility and documentation of women’s work in the unorganized sector is well known. According to the recent Census and NSS Round in 2004, in the unorganized sector even though only 30% are women, according to the study by CWDS, Ms. Neetha, in the unpaid family labour data recorded by the NSS and the Census, women out number men.
The Unorganised sector contributes 65% of the GDP and covers a wide range of occupations such as agriculture, construction, handlooms & powerlooms, dyeing, fisheries, poultry & animal husbandry, tea, coffee, rubber, cashew, plantation, processing, horticulture, sericulture, forests and allied activities, tree climbing, coir, home based work, vendors, handicrafts, services, shops & establishment, transport & allied, leather, tanning products, salt pans, small scale & cottage industries, domestic work, production & distribution of culture, art & media, loading & unloading in good sheds, yards, markets etc. The unorganized sector is neglected and unprotected thus bonded labour, child labour, exploitation of women labour, poverty and deprivation are widely prevalent. Also the processes of globalization, liberalization and mechanization have led to invisible retrenchments, under employment, poverty and mal nutrition levels. Hence there is an urgent need for regulation of employment, conditions of service, social security and welfare of this vast unorganized sector in our country.
Unlike the organized sector, there is no fixed employment relationship in the unorganized sector. The peculiar nature of the unorganized sector is the changing employer - employee relationships and existence of hierarchy of relationships. The employment is contractual, most often on a sub contract basis and is unregulated and thus the workers are unprotected. Thus, to ensure security of employment and protection of workers, it is imperative to regulate employment in the unorganized sector. A sizable section of workers are women, hence gender discrimination must be prevented and maternity entitlements, childcare ensured apart from preventing sexual harassment at workplaces. Also, there is a large number of self employed workers, at the mercy of traders and authorities, and being further marginalized facing starvation due to globalisation.
Though labour laws enacted to protect sweated labour, such as the Minimum Wages Act, Equal Remuneration Act, Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act etc., are sought to be applied to unorganized sector workers, they are not capable of being implemented due to the changing employer - employee relation, inadequacy of labour law administration and the lack of provisions to involve workers in the implementation or to protect them against victimization.
Though social security laws such as the ESI Act, EPF Act, Payment of Gratuity Act etc., have been sought to be extended to the unorganized sector, constraints in their application have been experienced due to lack of continuity of employment, the changing employer - employee relationship and the total lack of records pertaining to details of employment
Thus the major contributing cause to this state of affairs is the total inapplicability of the normal type of labour laws to the situation obtaining in the unorganized sector. The beneficiaries of the labour of unorganized workers have thus a collective obligation to meet the human needs of those, the fruits of whose labour benefit the people at large. If the benefits of labour legislation are to reach this large mass of workers, it is then necessary that the law should take note of the unique features of the unorganized sector and should provide not merely for welfare of the workers, but also for the regulation of employment itself in the unorganized sector. Such regulation could not be left to be taken care of by the employers or by the administrative hierarchy, but must be entrusted to an autonomous body statutorily set up and consisting of representatives of the workers, specially women workers, government and the employers.
The proposed Law drafted by National Campaign Committee for Unorganized Sector Workers intends to incorporate the following features based on the above stated nature of employment in the unorganized sector.
- Right to livelihood including right over common property and resources.
- Minimum Labour Standards to achieve Decent Conditions of Work.
- Right of workers in formulation and implementation of schemes through Sectoral Tripartite Boards for groupings of employments at various levels with workers and proportionate representation for women workers having decisive voice .
- Compulsory registration of the employers and of the workers, identified by registered trade unions in all the scheduled groupings of employments;
- Restriction on employment in the sector to only those workers who are registered under the law;
- Prohibition of employment in unorganized sector by employers, without registration under the law;
- Equitable sharing of the available employment, category - wise, on the basis of rotational booking of workers;
- Employment guarantee for a minimum number of days in a month;
- Vesting of the responsibility for determining wages including piece rates to be not less than the time rated wage for 8 hours and their disbursement in the autonomous body; and equal wages for equal work.
- Provision of safety measures and for various other entitlements including social security, pension, group insurance, relief for accident and natural death and a minimum guarantee of earnings by the autonomous body.
- Provision of ESI, including occupational health facilities PF, gratuity, maternity entitlement, housing crèches etc.
- Special measure for prevention of sexual harassment on women workers in workplaces.
- Minimum of 3% of budgetary allotments of Central and State Governments and of Plan allocations for the Social Security of the unorganized Sector.
- Restriction of mechanization and labour displacement strategies and promotion of labour intensive methods in the unorganized sector.
- Inbuilt tripartite dispute resolution mechanism and appellate authority.
- Special protection of migrant workers and their families
- Elimination of bonded labour and child labour and ensuring compulsory education of children in the unorganized sector.