The Life of Labour: Soaring Unemployment; Futile Budgetary Announcements

Latest news updates from the world of work.

Unemployment rate at a four decade high: NSSO survey

In a rude shock to the country, but unsurprising vindication of some economists, the leaked NSSO survey on employment for 2017-2018, published by Business Standard, revealed that the unemployment rate had hit 6.1%, levels unseen in the last four decades.

The data also revealed a negative trend in the labour force participation rate, especially among women, with only a quarter in employment or seeking employment. Youth unemployment in both rural and urban areas also showed a significant rise, causing concerns about a demographic backlash instead of the ‘dividend’ that the NDA government was to unleash.

The other side of the story was that this was not a government publication but a ‘leak’. While the NITI Aayog called a press conference to debunk the ‘draft’ report, questions arose as to why a government think-tank, rather than the National Statistics Commission, was sitting on the data, which usually is vetted and released by the NSC.

This tussle between the two organisations needs to be seen in the light of two senior independent members, including the acting chairperson, resigning from the NSC earlier last week. This is what P.C. Mohanan, the acting person who resigned in protest, had to say about the issue, the leaked survey and its inferences.

Who is bearing the burden of jobless growth?

Official or not, the Indian economy is struggling in the aftermath of quixotic economic policies like demonetisation. Government and non-government research on employment has shown the erosion of jobs in both the rural and urban economies. The more alarming issue is that the burden of unemployment has fallen on educated youth and women at a disproportionately higher level. This article in The Wire illustrates this in three charts.


Budget 2019 and farmers: Basic income

“This won’t benefit much, but it is better than nothing,” one farmer told Forbes India, capturing the sense of futility around the government’s recent announcements during the Union budget.

One major scheme was the announcement of Rs 6,000 per year to farmers with two or less hectares of land.  This scheme is being described as basic income for farmers and will cost the government around Rs 75,000 crore. But despite being touted as new and vital, the scheme is simply a smaller version of an existing scheme in some states.

“In comparison, the Rythu Bandhu scheme of the Telangana government provides Rs10,000 per acre of support, which means that a 5-acre farmer would get Rs 50,000 per year, giving at least partial support towards cultivation cost. It is a joke to declare that the meagre Rs 6,000 per year will save farmers from the moneylenders, when a typical small farmer requires an investment of at least Rs 1 lakh in cost of cultivation,” Kirankumar Vissa from Rythu Swarajya Vedika in Telangana told Down to Earth magazine.

Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Accenture to sell automation software that allowed it to cut 40,000 jobs

Accenture says all their workers who were rendered ‘redundant’ because of a software were retrained and placed in other departments. But it’s clear that SynOps, their new product, is meant to eliminate jobs for its potential customers.

The software essentially automated a lot of tasks in finance, marketing and procurement. These are tasks that are often done in back offices based out of India or other developing countries. And by allowing them to benchmark their processes against competitors, it’s setting up a race for “leanness” that takes no cognisance of the human cost.

Taxi driver in Tamil Nadu commits suicide alleging police harassment

In a video recorded on his phone before he took his own life, a taxi driver in Chennai described how he was regularly harassed by police officers who made his life miserable. “Police verbally abused me in the presence of a woman customer (occupant) when I had parked my vehicle in the parking zone. Yesterday when I sleeping inside my car, parked on a service road, police tried to lock and tow away my car and demanded money,” Murthy, the driver, said in the video.

Despite naming the police as the sole cause of his death, the commissioner of police seemed to question his intentions and the truth of the claims, blaming him for taking his life instead of filing a complaint.

In his video, Murthy said he wanted to be the last person driven to suicide by police harassment while they were struggling to make a livelihood. It doesn’t look like the police has any intention of making that the case.

Indian homeworkers are paid pennies to work on clothes for international fashion brands

A report by Siddharth Kakra at the University of California, Berkeley reveals the state of unregulated home-based work in north India. Based more than a thousand interviews, the report states that, “Nearly all were female, and more than 99%, it turned out, were either Muslim or part of a low caste,” according to Quartz.

Most workers were working for Western clothing brands and had started working when they were minors. They were being paid much less than the approved minimum wage and most of them reported that they had started working in this way because of financial distress.

This form of industry that might be employing hundreds of thousands of people exploits those who are already suffering and have no options, so that people in the US and Europe can have cheaper clothes. A senior official in the labour department told Reuters that they would “undertake a headcount of unorganized workers in 125 sectors – including garment manufacturing – and give them an identification number that will help them avail social security schemes”.

Other news

India’s first attempt at regulating fishing trawlers underway

Last week, a Central government committee was set up to recommend ways to reduce India’s Trawling Fleet.

“It was agreed that there is a need to reduce the number of trawlers for two main reasons. One that there is excess catch and two to reduce the damage on the ocean bed and to the ecology that bottom trawlers cause,” said the director of the Bay of Bengal Programme Inter-Governmental Organisation.

Trawlers are medium-sized ships with nets that sweep the ocean floors, scraping it off en masse with all life forms. Adding to this is the fine mesh size of the nets that do not let juveniles and sometimes even eggs and larvae escape. Several conservationists and activists have called for a complete ban on trawl nets as they indiscriminately destroy all life forms.

Experts have called for a complete ban, stating that the time for half measures is long gone. Interestingly, in Tamil Nadu the trawler fishers are themselves of the opinion that this form of fishing is harmful and are willing to change if offered credible incentives.

JACTO GEO withdraws strike after state refuses to negotiate

Teachers and government employees were forced to withdraw their nine-day strike on March 31 after the state refused to negotiate with them and went on to initiate criminal and disciplinary action against many union leaders.

Facing police pressure and the lack of public sympathy, the federation decided to call of the strike. However, they are still facing state government action like transfers for participating in the strike. In Kotagiri, the punishment transfer of two teachers has led to a protest by parents.

Analysing the strike, Thozhillalar Koodam published an editorial on the need for government employees and unions to improve their public image and support.

Reliance workers languish in jails, unable to fulfil bail conditions

News channels reported that the Maharashtra high court had ordered bail for four workers of Reliance Infrastructure, arrested under the UAPA in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence. However, the contract workers are still languishing in jail as they are unable to fulfil the conditions imposed by the sessions court, which includes financial surety.

Weekend reading

Empowering domestic workers through unions in Indonesia: The story of how Lita Anggraini and her colleagues unionised thousands of domestic workers across Indonesia and got national visibility for their issues. Read more here.

How to protect miners as we transition to a low-coal economy globally: The livelihood of workers is often fronted by the coal industry as a reason to champion fossil fuel energy.

In the absence of tested economic alternatives, the loss of income from not mining these climate harming minerals could trump any attempt to transition to renewables. However, there are credible alternatives to keep the economy and income growing, even as we move to a greener future. This article details the debate in coal-rich German and Polish regions, and the alternatives they are seeking.