Meeting development aspirations
Integrated approach to providing employment opportunities and ensuring social security has yielded great dividends for J&K’s development efforts
Decent and productive employment is imperative for economic and social development. Apart from its direct implications for improving individual well-being, employment is central to fulfilling major developmental objectives, such as poverty reduction, productivity growth and social cohesion. Significant benefits accruing from quality employment range from acquiring skills to empowering women. Equally critical from a developmental perspective is the effective delivery of social security benefits, particularly for women, youth and those engaged in the unorganised sector.
The provision of employment and social security become all the more significant in a situation like that of Jammu & Kashmir where a new development trajectory is being envisaged. This cannot be achieved through a single policy intervention; a multitude of initiatives are required. This article looks at some of the major measures initiated towards bolstering employment opportunities and ensuring social security in Jammu & Kashmir.
The major interventions are encapsulated below:
• Reforms in labour regulations to enable ease of doing business
• Effective delivery of social security entitlements to the workers in the organised and unorganised sectors
• Catering to the needs of the workers in distress, especially migrant workers
• Campaigns to inform the workers about their legitimate rights under various labour acts
Reforms in labour regulations
Labour laws and their enforcement, aiming to regulate the working conditions of workers and their well-being in both public and private sectors, have been the prime concern of the Ministry of Labour and Employment. Since last year, not only have the Ministry's activities expanded in J&K, but actions have also been taken to set up its offices in the Union Territory (UT).
Under ease of doing business, several labour legislations have been/are being amended. These include the Industrial Dispute Act, Motor Transport Workers Act, Contractual Labour (Regulation & Abolition) Act, Factories Act, Trade Union Act, The Building and other Construction Workers Act, etc. Through these amendments, threshold limits have been enhanced, compounding of offences introduced, and provisions for deemed registration, reduction in limitation period, permitting night work for women, enhancement of retrenchment compensation, etc. have been made. These amendments may further ease the doing of business and attract investments in J&K which in turn would lead to the creation of job opportunities for the people of the region, thus harnessing the tourism potential and available resources.
Effective delivery of formal social security entitlements
Social security benefits through the Employees' Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) and Employees' State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) have been further strengthened in J&K. EPFO commenced its activities in J&K on November 1, 2019, with the setting up of a new regional office at Jammu. Within the first year itself, EPFO has 3,326 establishments under its ambit covering 1,26,675 employees. As against the applicability of 20+ workers prevailing in the rest of the country, benefits of EPFO have been extended to cover establishments with 10+ workers in J&K in line with the erstwhile J&K Employees Provident Fund & Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1961. Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) benefits – wherein payment of both the employer's and employee's contribution is done by the Government – have also been extended to 1,275 employers covering 15,467 employees. Till date, 2,95,253 workers are registered with ESI, and 91,974 worker IPs (Insured persons) and their 67,227 dependents have been provided medical treatment for the year 2019-20. Full medical care, including specialist and super-specialist treatment, is being given to insured persons and their families. ESIC has also approved setting up of a tertiary super speciality 100-bedded hospital at Ompara Budgam at a cost of Rs 150 crores to cater to the needs of the labourers from J&K UT. The Ministry is also actively considering the opening of a Regional Office of Directorate General of Mines Safety (DGMS) in J&K.
Under PM-Shram Yogi Maan-Dhan Scheme (PM-SYM), the pioneering social security scheme launched in 2019 for ensuring old age protection and social security to unorganised workers, 93,185 unorganised workers have been registered in the state, thus securing for J&K the distinction of being 1st in terms of enrolment among the UTs and 11th at the national level.
Catering to the needs of workers in distress
During the current crisis of COVID-19, relief of approximately Rs 46 crores has been provided to 1,57,516 registered active building and other construction workers. Construction of shelter homes (Labour Sarai) at Samba, Udhampur and Khanpora Bowli Baramulla for housing labour, is underway. So far, 48,780 willing inter-state migrant workers have been evacuated and transported to their native states/districts. Helplines have also been established at various places for assisting the migrant workers. The work of online registration of the incoming migrant workers with their skill mapping has also been initiated and help desks established in all the districts to assist the migrant workers to facilitate their registration. 13 services are being provided through online (www.jklabour.com) mode and 26 services under the purview of J&K Public Services Guarantee Act, 2011 by the Labour Department.
Campaigns to inform workers
Alongside, attempts are also being made to spread awareness among the workers about their legitimate rights under the various labour regulations and other schemes. In this direction, VV Giri National Labour Institute (VVGNLI), the training arm of the Ministry, participated in the exhibition 'Sanrachna-2019' during 4-9 December, 2019, and highlighted the schemes, programmes, and welfare activities of the Ministry to around 10,000 visitors. To provide a variety of employment-related services using technology, 11 Model Career Centres have been established in J&K (including the UT of Ladakh) so far. From August 2019 till date 41,946 jobseekers from J&K have registered on the National Career Service Portal. Three job fairs have also been held and 14,793 vacancies mobilised.
It is encouraging that these steps are being further augmented and diversified in various other sectors so that the benefits reach a wider spectrum of people in all parts of the UT. This will push up effective demand in the economy, which in turn will create an enabling atmosphere for investment and further job creation. An integrated approach to the twin goals of employment generation and provision of social security will go a long way towards fulfilling the developmental aspirations of Jammu & Kashmir.
The writer is an economist and Sr Fellow with VV Giri National Labour Institute. Views expressed are personal