SERIOUS CHALLENGES POSED BY INDIAN UNORGANISED SECTOR DURING COVID-19

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This article was written by Samta Sharma from JEMTEC School of Law, IPU, Greater Noida &Curated by Naman Jain of Bennett University, Greater Noida.

Covid-19, a natural Human Disaster have forced the entire world into a nation-wide Lockdown. Undoubtedly, the lockdown was encouraged wholeheartedly by the nation-wide medical staff and government. But unfortunately, in India, the cost of lockdown has been very expensive for the unorganized sector of the country as it has completely seized the financial support & socio-economic system. Lockdown, for the companies, is nothing, but an unsolicited challenge to find a roof and three-time meal under this pandemic.

As we have already acknowledged that Indian informal sectors are getting worst-hit by the ongoing lockdown. Have you ever thought how is the Indian government dealing with it?

What is the role of government in providing them a ‘well-dignified life’? (which is also a right of every individual in a democratic country like India).

This article aims to address the role played by the judiciary, challenges faced by the unorganized sector, statutory provisions, and role of labour law during this pandemic.

On one hand, the whole world is fighting against Covid-19 and on the other, we have a large number of populations belonging to an unorganized sector fighting their own battles under poverty and Covid-19 altogether. Lakhs of migrant workers are rendered jobless and are struggling with a hungry stomach on the Indian streets. The travelling back of labourers to their respective homes has not only affected the workers but has also affected the whole nation and the organised sectors as it has created a lack of manual labour in various cities. Despondently, India is at a major risk of facing severe unemployment again. 

Since we all know that it is impossible to ignore the plight of unorganized section, many petitions were filed lately concerning the unorganized sector. 

A brief case report of Harsh Mander & Anr. vs UOI has caught many news reporters and editor’s attention. In this case, the petitioner was an Indian author who works with survivors of hunger, and homeless people including street children. He filed a writ petition before the honourable court pointing out the intense humanitarian crisis created by the lockdown with regard to the concern of state’s migrant workers. The petitioner raised his points in favour of the migrants seeking the upholding of ‘right to life with dignity’ stated under Article 19 of the Constitution of India. The Central demand was that the State Government and the Central Government should ‘jointly and severally’ take measures. According to a recent study conducted by the NGO, the aid facility is not even reachable to the migrant workers. The petition also demanded that this work should be done by self-identification and self-attestation. 

JUDGEMENT:

The judgment was unsatisfactory on the subject of ‘right to live dignified life’. The Chief Justice claimed that if the workers are already been provided with daily three times meals, then the need for more money should be justified.

The Union Government claimed that it had announced a financial package of 1.70 lakh crores. Further, many different schemes such as MGNREGA are already in process. The Union Government also stated that the financial package will take care of the daily needs of every poor person including migrant workers.

Lastly, the bench stated that in the present time of crisis, no one should interfere with the decisions of the court. The case was closed without giving any proper relief to the migrants, and the final order simply read: “We call upon the respondent-Union of India to look into such material and take effective steps as it finds fit to resolve the issues raised in the petition”

And despondently, for millions of state workers, the Union did not respond adequately to their plight. Many cases of such nature have come in consideration, but still, it has left the poverty-stricken sector in question that how they will ensure shelter and medicine for their children and family. On one side, Covid-19 is cutting a very expensive bill on the unorganized sector and on the other side, the state has not yet decided about their provisions, and is still taking their baby steps provisions in this serious context.

Furthermore, let us focus on what provisions should be made or are already made by the government for taking care of the unorganized sector:

Provisions laid by the government:

The government plays a major role in managing any unforeseen situation. The Indian Government has tried to help unorganised sector by introducing the relief pack.

  1. It includes a one-time-ex-gratia amount of Rs. 1000 for three crore poor senior citizens, widows, and disabled people.
  2. Women holding ‘Jan Dhan Accounts’ will get a one-time ex-gratia-amount of Rs.500 per month for 3 months.
  3. Pay-out will be given to 8.69 crore farmers under PM-KISAN.
  4. Women below the poverty line eligible for Ujjwala Scheme will get free cylinders for 3 months.

There are several such Arrangements made by the government, but still, there is a need to add some more essential provisions into it:

  1. Arrangements should be made for providing minimum wage to all the migrants.
  2. The principle of equal opportunity for every section of the population should be properly followed and accepted.
  3. Steps should be taken to provide them basic essential products and foodstuffs.
  4. Arrangements should be made for free medical first-aid without any discrimination.
  5. People belonging to the informal sector should get quarantine facilities whenever necessary. Proper arrangements should be made by providing them hygienic quarantine centers without any discrimination on any ground.
  6. Arrangements concerning means of transport should be done, in case, they need to travel from their workplace to home or vice versa.

In short, all the necessary arrangements should be made to provide them with better living facilities.

ROLE OF LABOUR LAW:

Labour law plays a major role in the lives of every labour and was made particularly to protect the rights of the employees. However, it is not successful in saving the lives of unorganized sector.  Its primary function is to provide equal pay and equal opportunity to the employees by eliminating discrimination. But unfortunately, it was been observed that these laws are limited only to provide advices and are not for the purpose of implementing it. It was noted that, labour law statutes such as the Industrial Disputes Act 1947, Payment of Wages Act 1937, governs payment of wages of workers/employees. Moreover, the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act 1947 explicitly recognizes the right of an employer to lay off an employee, and reduce the wages to 50% up to a period of 45 days in certain eventualities including a natural calamity (S. 25(c) and S. 25(M)). But, according to these Sections too, it has been more than 45 days and the layoff continues and no wages has been paid yet. Hence, it seems that the Ministry of Labour and Employment has consciously chosen to issue an advisory, instead of resorting to a formal order/direction mandating payment of wages during lockdown. It is evident that the labour law made for ensuring and providing the unemployed labours a seat in every condition has failed to reach its motive, leading to worsening of situation of the unorganized sector. 

Conclusion:

The current lockdown has casted an unprecedented economic hardship on daily wage earners. Fighting against Covid-19 needs a two-fold approach, where firstly, the policies must be ensured for the safety of the entire nation. Secondly, separate provisions should be made for ensuring the proper survival of the poor people. Further, the central and state authorities have the responsibility to direct all daily wage earners with their daily/weekly wages at the place where they are present under the lockdown. Effective measures should be made to save the poor from the cost of the pandemic.

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