Contract labour facing the heat

By B. Sivaraman. Dated: 7/8/2019 12:51:41 PM

Budget 2019-20-a big let down for workers

Has Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman's budget addressed the unemployment crisis-both creation of new jobs and the emerging threat of job losses-in all seriousness?

All eyes were on Finance Minister Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman's maiden budget, eager to see how she would address the twin challenges of slowdown in growth and increasing unemployment. The Economic Survey which showed that GDP growth had fallen from 8.2 per cent in 2016-17 to 7.2 per cent in 2017-18, the year of demonetisation, and further nosedived to 6.8 per cent in 2018-19 and the projection for 2019-20 is 7 per cent. For the 8.27 crore organised sector employees(NSSO 2011-12) and more than double that number of non-agricultural unorganised workers (ILO 2016 estimates), who create the bulk of this GDP,this budget has come up as a big let-down for them.
Has Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman's budget addressed the unemployment crisis-both creation of new jobs and the emerging threat of job losses-in all seriousness? In April 2018, Modi Government started a Pradhan Mantri Rojgar Protsahan Yojana (PMRPY) to incentivise generation of new employment by employers wherein the union government would bear the employers' contribution towards EPF and National Pension Scheme for the newly recruited workers. Garments and apparels were targeted as maximum employment generating industries under this scheme. There were 1961 textile mills according to the Textile Ministry and 1 lakh garment and apparel units as per a Technopak study commissioned by the ministry. And how many units had been covered in the first year of the scheme? Mere 802 establishments were covered, and last year the government spent only a paltry amount of Rs. 24 crore on this! This budget has given only a 12.5 per cent increase for this scheme. This is their panacea for generating 1 crore employment per year!
What about the emerging danger of tech-induced job losses? A McKinsey study revealed in June 2019 that 44 million Indian men and 12 million Indian women would lose jobs by 2030 due to automation and other new digital technologies. This means at least 50 lakh jobs on an average would be lost per year over the next decade. This has been reiterated by many other studies by international agencies like World Bank and ILO and all of them call for serious mitigation measures and orderly transition. The Union Budget 2019-20 shows Modi Government just ignores the problem.
In this year's budget only Rs. 70,000 crore has been provided for recapitalisation of Public Sector Banks (PSBs) and credit guarantee has been promised for market borrowings upto additional Rs. 1 lakh crore. But the public sector banks which were saddled with non-performing assets (NPAs) to the tune of Rs. 13 lakh crore a year back witnessed the figure go up to Rs.15 lakh crore (including ever-greened and stressed assets) in one year. Now, in the name of having only 6 viable PSBs, it is dumping weak banks on strong ones and in the process making them sick also. 12 lakh bank employees were opposing this banks merger tooth and nail and are already feeling the pinch in their wage and working conditions, but Ms. Sitharaman reiterated the government's resolve.
Just a day before Nirmala Sitharaman's budget, there was speculation in the pro-BJP English media that the government was considering revival package of Rs. 74,000 crore for BSNL and MTNL that includes a VRS package for Rs. 29,182 crore and a proposal to reduce retirement age from 60 t0 58 which involves an immediate cost of Rs.10,993 crore. Ms. Sitharaman's budget offers nothing to save BSNL. Does it mean the BSNL rescue plan would be left to corporates who would invest in lieu of transfer of stakes at dirt cheap rates?
According to the 58th Public Enterprises Survey of 2017-18 conducted by the Department of Public Enterprises, as on 31 March 2018, the long-term debt of 339 PSEs stood at Rs. 10,11,173 crore and their short-term debt was Rs. 2,32,304 crore. They are into a debt trap, borrowing more to do debt servicing. Reviving the sick PSEs is no big deal as, in 2017-18, the combined loss of 71 loss-making PSEs stood at Rs. 31,261 crore whereas the profit of 184 profit-making CPSEs was Rs. 1,59,635 crore. Instead of nursing the sick PSUs back to financial health, Modi Government treats them like milch cows, raising money by grabbing their surpluses and disinvesting the government stakes in them. After raising Rs. 80,000 crore and Rs. 1 lakh crore in the last two years, the target for disinvestment this year is Rs.1,05,000 crore. It is like some usurping interlopers selling the family silver for their own vested interests. 10.88 lakh permanent workers and 44 lakh contract workers of 339 PSUs are now gripped with a fear psychosis of job-losses.
Has Ms. Sitharaman's budget addressed the problems of private sector workers in crisis? Modi Government exempted SMEs from almost all labour laws arguing that labour laws are the main constraints on the growth of MSMEs. 63 million MSMEs-employing around 111 million people and accounting for 30 per cent of the GDP and 40 per cent of total exports of the country-but there is widespread sickness among them and they are now reeling under a debt burden of Rs.37,000 crore. In NDA government's first term, every year more than Rs. 5 lakh crore worth of revenue was foregone to favour big corporates. But there was no revival package for sick MSMEs except for allocating a meagre Rs. 350 crore for 2 per cent interest subvention. This is like a throwing handful of popcorn before a hungry elephant!
The 2017-18 Economic Survey highlighted the alarming fact that the gender gap in labour force participation rate was 50 percentage points and the gender gap in median earnings for full-time employees was nearly 58 per cent. But the 2018-19 Budget did nothing about it. Since 2013-14, more than 50 per cent of the MGNREGA work went to women every year but this budget has reduced the allocation for MGNREGA to Rs. 60,000 crore from Rs. 61,084 crore allotted in the previous budget of 2018-19!
Total number of scheme workers in India are around 84 lakh including 28 lakh anganwadi workers in 14 lakh anganwadis, 26 lakh mid-day meal workers, 15 lakh para teachers working under Sarva Siksha Abhiyan and 10 lakh ASHA workers, and 3 lakh Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANMs). Their wages border on sweatshop wages. The minimum Ms. Sitharaman could have done is to double their wages in this budget but she didn't. So much from the second woman finance minister for women toilers of India.
—(IPA Service)



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