By Sahil Sharma
The second wave of the pandemic has been disastrous for many industries due to recurring lockdowns in multiple states. As a result, millions of workers have lost their jobs. As most businesses struggle to keep their operations going due to a host of challenges, including staff shortages, a niche segment has kept the economy moving: handymen.
From delivering food and other essentials like repairing ACs and other items, gig workers have acted as frontline fighters to keep the economy moving. This applies to both blue-collar and part-time workers. Yet these unrecognized frontline fighters have no Social Security or other benefits to fall back on in the event of a rainy day.
New Barriers to Labor Law
This gap was expected to be addressed when 44 labor laws were consolidated into four labor laws. It was planned that the new codes would be introduced from April this year. Unfortunately, the Center has been forced to indefinitely postpone its implementation, citing the undue delay by state governments in finalizing the draft rules.
While the postponement has been welcomed by companies and employers who were expected to reform their compensation structures and HR policies, it has left giga and casual workers with a sense of deep disappointment. The reason is obvious if one digs deeper. Of the new laws, these workers in the informal economy were the most eagerly waiting for social security. This is because for the first time, Social Security benefits such as health insurance, tips, maternity leave, disability insurance, and old age protection would have been extended to workers in the gig economy.
Once in effect, aggregators and platforms employing gig workers would have contributed either 1% or 2% of their revenue or 5% of workers’ wages. The national government and the national government can also contribute to this social security fund. Due to the delay, the intended benefits are unfortunately delayed. This is very discouraging for employees, not only because they have been waiting for this moment for years. But also since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020 has turned their lives upside down, while the severity of the second wave has worsened their plight.
Most workers infected with COVID-19, or those who have had family members affected, have been forced to use their savings to pay medical bills. During this second wave, they have nothing to fall back on if they get sick. Worse, the intensity of the second wave has forced most institutions to postpone the employment of even informal workers, exacerbating their misery.
Accelerated Labor Laws
Against this background, workers in the informal sector waited in April for the introduction of the new labor laws. But as numerous states were either holding elections or fighting the resurgence of COVID-19 in their regions, the new labor laws simply weren’t among the priorities. The states say they need at least another three to five months to finalize the draft labor laws.
In addition to social security, there were other important minimum wage and occupational safety laws. Last year, parliament passed the Industrial Relations Act 2020, the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Act 2020 and the Social Security Act 2020. In the case of the wage code, it was adopted by the parliament in 2019 during the monsoon. session.
Nevertheless, given the impact of the pandemic on informal workers, the Center should urge states to finalize their draft labor laws as soon as possible. Once formalized and carefully implemented, such laws will encourage more people to enter the gig economy in the future. Therefore, the Center could set a reasonable time frame for states to be ready with draft guidelines, bearing in mind that these labor laws have already been delayed.
Moreover, handymen need the empathy of the nation as since March 2020 they have been the invisible frontline fighters meeting the needs of the people after the first nationwide lockdown. Due to social distancing standards plus recurring lockdowns and curfews during the pandemic, it is difficult for people to get out. In such situations, gig workers’ doorstep deliveries for essentials such as medicines, food and groceries have saved the day and in some cases even lives. Although these workers risk their lives and the well-being of their families, unfortunately they have nothing to fall back on.
To inform those readers who are not well versed in gig workers, these are platform based individuals who provide various services including home delivery and work from home. Usually, such employees are hired through different apps depending on the platform they are enrolled in. Furthermore, millions of people who lost their jobs during the pandemic have also resorted to the gig economy to ensure continuity of income. The lack of basic Social Security benefits for these handymen will also create fear of participating in the gig economy and contribute to higher turnover.
Although the Union government supports many industries, the workers of the informal industry are still left behind. Accordingly, central and state governments must work together to swiftly implement social security and other labor laws and benefit all individuals in the informal economy. That is the least the nation can do for these misunderstood frontline workers.
The author is CEO and co-founder, Gigindia. The opinions expressed are personal and not necessarily those of Financial Express Online