Frail at the bottom
A comprehensive approach is required to relieve the vulnerable workforce from the distress caused by climate change and economic turmoil; writes Prabhat Sharma
The Indian labour force is becoming more and more exposed. There are two key causes for this vulnerability, in my opinion. Both are somewhat related to one another. But I'd prefer to deal with them separately for a greater understanding. Economic distress and climate change are the two justifications.
Recent research has revealed that India's household position has been declining for years, since even before the pandemic. Over the past few decades, consumption growth has exceeded income growth. This is a direct outcome of less saving and more debt.
Although regular wage earners and the salaried class are superior to independent contractors and temporary employees, only approximately 23 per cent of the whole workforce — 437 million people — fit this description. The remainder are either self-employed (around 50 per cent) or temp workers (27 per cent). Even according to the World Bank, more than 75 per cent of the workforce in India works in "vulnerable" jobs. For the majority of modern economic theories, this ratio is under ten.
The effects of climate change pose another set of dangers. Although everyone on the planet is impacted by climate change, developed nations, on account of their superior public health, social security, and infrastructure, are currently able to handle it and its effects more effectively. The effects on developing and underdeveloped nations are disastrous and tragic. Rain or excessive heat disrupt many things. However, the impact on the vulnerable workforce is much greater. The effect on health and income is also significant. The worker frequently becomes sick, as does his family. This results in absenteeism from work or school. Children miss school, and employees lose their daily wages. Because of inadequate infrastructure, the likelihood of accidents also increases significantly, which results in loss of payment.
These climatic fluctuations, which include extreme rain and heat, have an impact on the quantity and quality of the foodgrains produced. Numerous studies have been conducted, with the results showing that not only is the per-hectare production declining but that the quality of several crops, especially rice and wheat, is also declining. In addition to the poor losing their meals as a result of the shortage in grain supply, prices are also skyrocketing. Income has not kept pace with actual inflation. The long-term health of the vulnerably employed labour is impacted by this inadequate and unhealthy diet.
Another significant effect of this rural economy is that it prevents the migrant workforce from being vulnerable in light of the issues in metropolitan centres.
To solve these difficulties, we require a comprehensive and all-encompassing approach. Additionally, the vulnerable workforce must also be informed about the many government programmes that could be accessible to them.
The functions of the government, civil society, and labour unions have grown significantly since yesterday.
The writer is Ex Head, Corporate Communications & CEO, PPL, Social Research and Communications. Views expressed are personal