Report on Comprehensive Legislation for Minimum Conditions of Work and Social Security for Unorganised Workers

FOCUS

The National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) was set up in 2004 by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government as an advisory body and a watchdog for the informal sector. This NCEUS report reviews labour laws and social security systems that apply to workers in the unorganised sector. 

It observes that while existing laws have some provisions for conditions of work for certain workers, there is no comprehensive legal framework for the “basic and minimum conditions of work” for unorganised sector workers. Therefore, it proposes comprehensive and protective laws for agricultural and non-agricultural workers in the unorganised sector that will regulate conditions of work, social security, welfare and livehood promotion. Given the differences in the conditions of work for agricultural and non-agricultural workers, two bills are proposed.

The bills also incorporate a National Security Scheme for agricultural labourers and non-agricultural workers in the unorganised sector. In case of disputes over the implementation of the bills, the NCEUS recommends conciliation through resolution instead of bureaucractic and time-consuming legal procedures. The dispute resolution process may involve the participation of workers’ representatives or elected representatives of local bodies. 

    FACTOIDS

  1. The NCEUS found that the income of marginal and small farmers was less than their expenditure, their debt burden from informal lenders was very high, and state support was extremely meagre.

  2. Among unorganised workers, agricultural labourers were the most vulnerable, followed by casual workers, marginal farmers and the self-employed. As many as 90.7 per cent of agricultural labourers and 52.3 per cent of casual non-agricultural workers received a wage below the national minimum (Rs. 66 per day).

  3. Socially deprived groups (Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Muslims and women) were predominant in the most vulnerable occupations. For example, SC/ST workers were 43.5 per cent of the casual labour workforce and Muslim workers, particularly low-caste Muslims, were 19.4 per cent of self-employed non-agricultural workers.

  4. Casual workers and domestic workers lacked social protection, got low pay for long hours of work, had no access to health and safety regulations, and were not entitled to overtime rates and weekly holidays.

  5. The NCEUS developed two bills to ensure certain minimum conditions of work for agricultural and non-agricultural workers and to protect their rights and human dignity. They were the Agricultural Workers’ Conditions of Work and Social Security Bill, 2007 and the Unorganised Non-Agricultural Workers’ Conditions of Work and Social Security Bill, 2007.

  6. The main provisions of these bills were an eight-hour work day with at least a half-hour break; one day of paid rest; a national minimum wage for occupations not included in the Minimum Wages Act, 1948; wages based on piece-work to be equal to wages based on hours of work; wages for women to be on par with those for occupations certified by the Employment Certification Committee; payment of wages on time and failure to do so to attract penal action; no deduction of wages in the form of fines; the right to organise; no discrimination on the basis of gender, social origin, place of origin or incidence of HIV/AIDS; adequate safety equipment to be provided on the job; compensation for accidents; protection from sexual harassment; provision of childcare and basic amenities at the workplace.

  7. The NCEUS recommended a National Social Security Scheme for which all unorganised workers could register. It wanted to ensure that workers get a minimum level of social protection as a statutory right and an entitlement, and not simply as ad hoc largesse bestowed by government.

  8. The scheme would offer life and disability insurance in the case of partial or total disability, accidental death or untimely natural death of the worker.

  9. The scheme would also offer benefits such as hospitalisation for the worker and his/her family, maternity benefits for the worker or the worker’s spouse, and an allowance for the earning member of the family during hospitalisation or in the case of illness during the insurance policy period.

  10. The scheme would provide an old age pension of Rs. 200 per month to below poverty line (BPL) workers above the age of 60, and Provident Fund to all other registered workers.

  11. Workers who own or work on not more than two hectares of land, or earn an income of less than Rs. 6,500 a month, would be be eligible for the social security scheme.

  12. The NCEUS estimated that the total cost of the scheme at 2006-07 prices would be Rs. 33,350 crores.

    Factoids and Focus compiled by Tarun Gidwani.

AUTHOR

National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector, New Delhi

The Commission had the following members: Dr. Arjun K. Sengupta, Dr. K.P. Kannan, Dr. R.S. Srivastava, V.K. Malhotra, Dr. T.S. Papola and B.N. Yugandhar.

COPYRIGHT

National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector, New Delhi

PUBLICATION DATE

01 Jul, 2007

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