Indian economy is to a great extent characterized by large number of people working in unorganized sectors as unorganized workers; transitional nature of the Indian economy, disparity in education, skill and training are some of the major factors abetting such a large concentration of workers in an area most vulnerable to exogenous economic vicissitudes. Women working in the unorganized sector deserve a separate mention as they are much marginalized.

Women have always worked, albeit the definition of work – if seen only through the prism of contribution to national input- will mean different things to different people. Women, who might not be ‘working’ in the narrow definition of work, are still engaged in socially productive and reproductive labour.

National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector (NCEUS) has noted that ‘employment in India can be meaningfully grouped into four categories to reflect quality and its sectoral association.

These are (a) formal employment in the formal or organized sector, (b) informal employment in the formal sector, (c) formal employment in the informal sector, and, (d) informal employment in the informal sector.’

Amongst these four categories, reports have shown that the Indian economy is characterized largely by the huge number of people employed informally in the informal or the unorganized sector. (For ease of use, unorganized and informal sector are used interchangeably here). To exactly define unorganized sector, we can say it consists of all unincorporated private enterprises owned solely by individuals or households on a proprietary or partnership basis and involving less than ten workers in all.

Table 1: Estimated labour force in the informal sector by the year 2012-17
 
Year
GDP Growth Rate (%)
Employment (million)
Percentage share
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Formal
Informal
Total
Formal
Informal
2004-05
Actual
32.79
368.35
401.13
8.17
91.83
2006-07
Actual
33.87
393.06
426.93
7.93
92.07
2011-12
9
34.54
453.13
487.67
7.08
92.92
 
7
34.18
442.18
476.36
7.18
92.82
 
5
33.83
431.4
465.23
7.27
92.73
2016-17
9
33.93
521.96
555.9
6.1
93.9
 
7
33.08
490.46
523.54
6.32
93.68
 
5
32.26
461.05
493.31
6.54
93.46

 

The date shows us that an estimated 93.46% of the labour force (at 5% GDP growth) will be employed in the informal sector by the end of the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17).

Issues:

The issues regarding unorganized sector is largely country specific and its many manifestations are too been viewed and analyzed in that context. Some of the most germane points to our theme are the working conditions, duration and durability of work, earnings, labour rights and safety conditions at work. The Arjun SenGupta Committee Report shows an estimated 92-93 percent of the workforce would be employed in the informal sector by the year 2017.

Let us have a look at the percentage participation of the labour force and work force:

Graph 1:


(UPSS: Usual Principal and Subsidiary Status; UPS: Usual Principal Status; CWS: Current Weekly Status; MCWS:Modified Current Weekly Status; CDS: Current Daily Status – is considered a better method to measure open unemployment in a country.)

The skewed percentage participation of women as against men could well be the lack of availability of work throughout the year and their suitability to women, amongst other factors. The rural sector comprises of the major chunk of unorganized labour force. Lack of education, skill and training are – sometimes abysmal – at very low levels compared to their urban counterparts. The labour force and the workforce percentage participation rates also stand skewed. A stark contrast can be clearly observed in the levels of male to female participation owing difference in the levels of education.

 

 

 

 

 

Graph 2:


The societal underestimation of women’ work and the very structure of the unorganized sector makes it non-conducive work environment for women employed there. The double burden of managing household work as well as going to work to complement family income is what makes the issue of statistically measuring women’ work a complex task. This ‘invisibility’ of the women’ productive work in the statistics is of late being felt more keenly. This double burden often influences the type of work and the availability of work itself. Also, the existing socio-cultural mores do inhibit the already shrunk sphere of ‘acceptable’ work, thus lowering their participation in the conventional sense and forcing them to engage as casual labourers. (As evidenced in Table 2, below)

Among women in the prime age group, 15-59 years, 59% of women were engaged in domestic duties by principal status, while in contrast only 0.4 percent of men were engaged in domestic duties.

Table 2: Select Characteristics of Women Workers:

Indicator
Male
Female
Rural Female
Total Workers (in million)
309.4
148.0
124.0
Labour Force Participation Rate
56.0
29.0
33.3
Work Force Participation Rate
54.7
28.3
32.7
Percentage of Casual Labour in Total Workforce
27.5
30.0
32.6
Percentage of Unorganized Sector Workers in Total Workforce
84.0
91.3
94.5
Percentage of Workers in Agriculture and Allied Activities
48.9
72.8
83.34
Percentage of Out of School Children in Relevant Age (5-14 years)
15.5
20.7
23.5
Mean Years of Schooling (Unorganized Non-agricultural Workers)
6.1
3.7
2.9
Wage Rate of Rural agricultural Labourers (Rs. Per manday)
47.9
NA
33.1
Wage Rate of Rural Non-agricultural Labourers (Rs. Per manday)
67.5
NA
44.0
Percentage of Casual Labourers (Rural) not Getting Notional Minimum Wage of Rs 66
78.0
NA
95.6
Percentage of Casual Labourers (Rural) not Getting Notional Minimum Wage of Rs 66
40.9
NA
80.9

 

This Table highlights some glaring problems plaguing the unorganized sector. Even at a cursory glance it is obvious that the balance is titled heavily against women workers of the unorganized sector. It must be explicitly mentioned that the Labour force participation percentage of Rural Women at 33.3 does not per se indicate higher level of leveraging power. The economic exigencies faced by the rural women make them engage themselves in whatever work that if offered, to earn subsistence wage. Only by increasing the opportunities for education and skill development, can the balance be redressed.

Discrimination at the workplace remains a contentious and yet, an ever present issue for women. For example those who work as domestic helps do so in an unregulated environment and mostly outside the gambit of labour legislations. These unregulated conditions facilitate exploitation that manifest in different shades – quite often, sexual too. Migration has changed the demographics beyond conventional estimates. Those who are compelled most are the poor, illiterate and mostly women and children hailing from rural areas, who work as domestic helps/construction workers; the most vulnerable of the lot.

Gender discrimination, job-typing and occupational segregation is not always overt but they exist in many subtler shades. This discrimination happens in the evaluation of the work, fixing of wages and the denial of opportunity to take up rewarding work, to mention a few areas.

Observations:

The National Council of Applied Economics Research (NCAER) calculated that the informal economy or the unorganized sector generates about 62 percent of GDP, 50 percent of gross national savings and 40 percent of national exports. Numerous legislations abound to regulate the conditions of work and to create social security for the workers of the organized sector, but very few of them extend their scope to the vastly unregulated unorganized sector.

The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 (Amended in 1987) stipulates – in Section 4 read with Sec 5 – that:

  • It provides for the payment of equal remuneration to men and women workers for same work or work of a similar nature.
  • It also prohibits discrimination while recruiting men and women workers

As Table 2 highlights, the disparity in wage rates (per manday), between men and rural women, is contrary to what the legislation stipulates.

The percentage difference in mean school levels (Table 2) between male and female and male and rural female is 49 and 71 respectively; this stark difference belies the claim of women’ empowerment. Notwithstanding the numerous legislations, the lack of awareness – perpetuated by lack of education – is what hurts the women in this fragile sector more.

A National Floor Level Minimum Wage was envisaged by the National Commission on Rural Labour in 1991. National Floor Level Minimum Wages currently stand at Rs 80/- per day and The Minimum Wages Act, 1948, stipulates equal pay irrespective of gender. Coming back to Table 2, one can see that there is 36.5% and 42% in the wage rates between male and female rural agricultural labourers and rural non-agricultural labourers respectively.

Despite legislative protection, the data on women in the unorganised sector looks far from promising. In a country mired in abysmal levels of poverty and illiteracy, does rising minimum wages marginally, help in solving the underlying problems? The answer is a resounding no. The best yardstick to measure progress of women workers working in this unforgiving and demanding sector is to devise methods to increase their self-worth by creating opportunities for ownership by controlling assets.

Reference List:

1. Report on Conditions of Work and Promotion of Livelihoods in the Unorganised Sector (The Arjun SenGupta Committee Report) (by National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector- NCEUS), 2007.

2. Report of the Committee on Unorganised Sector Studies, February 2012

 

 


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