BY MANJIMA MISRA
Article 24 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.” The working class belonging to the unorganised or informal sector do not have access to this right. They are not able to access the right to minimum wages, leave policy or/and fixed working hours. However, the current COVID-19 Lockdown in India has mandated paid leaves for the working class such as for domestic servants. Domestic servants, as Nivedita Menon points out, do not have the equality provided by a capitalist contract between employer and employee.
According to a recent study by the International Labour Organisation titled “ILO Monitor 2nd edition: Covid-19 and the world of work”, 400 million people working in the unorganised sector in India are at the risk of falling into deeper poverty due to the COVID-19 crisis. The working class belonging to the informal sector will be more deeply affected by the rising unemployment, which is a result of the current public health crisis. Industrial manufacturing in India is based on the low paid work of the blue-collar employees who perform a large amount of manual labour. These contractual employees will be hit more than the white-collar employees who can work online from the comfort of their homes.
The current economic crisis caused by the Coronavirus epidemic amounts to the economic loss caused by the Great Depression in the 1930s. In just three months, COVID-19 has the potential to cause permanent damage to the economy in comparison to the Great Depression which continued for several years. We are witnessing one of the largest fiscal contribution by governments since the Second World War. A part of this fiscal effort of the government needs to be directed to the welfare of the 400 million informal sector workers in India, staring at the dismal possibility of financial survival. If the epidemic lasts long without a cure coming out soon, we are looking at slim chances of economic recovery. This unprecedented economic crisis implies unprecedented crisis for contractual blue collar labourers as they lack the economic security provided to the employees belonging to the higher managerial ranks in an industry.
The Coronavirus epidemic provides an opportunity to policymakers to work on labour rights so that labourers are able to access social safety net measures in the wake of a global economic crisis. The Government needs to bring about labour reforms and address the concerns of the informal sector working class.
We need to utilize the understanding of the devastating impact of an unprecedented global crisis on the working-class labourers. It is time to revisit and redefine labour laws. We need a provision of targeted basic income and a minimum wages law for the unorganised sector. Paid leaves, flexible working opportunities, health insurance and other social protection policies need to be formulated for the informal sector working class.