Informal workers hoping for the lockdown to end early

Business COVID-19 State

Lack of wages, drained savings put the informal sector at risk.

By Arghyadeep Dutta

Kolkata, April 14, 2020

As India fights against the deadly coronavirus, the informal workers, with no wages in hand and half drained savings accounts, are hoping for the lockdown to end soon.

“As the lockdown started on March 24, we did not get our wages for the month, and if the lockdown extends, we won’t get April’s wage also anytime soon,” said Khokon, who worked as a security guard for a vehicle dealership at Tollygunge, Kolkata.

All jobs which are not recognised as an official income source and do not come under the purview of income tax is known as the informal sector. Jobs like help, cook, agricultural employment (farm labourers) come under the informal sector. In 2018, ‘Women and men in the informal economy: A statistical picture,’ a report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) stated that nearly 81 per cent of all employment in India is in the informal sector.

On March 24, the Government announced a 21-day nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus. This forced every organisation and institution to close without any prior notice. The formal workers are working from home, and their salaries are paid through a bank salary account. But, the informal workers, who were paid by cash, did not receive last month’s salary, and they are living off their savings.

Radha Das, who works as a cook in a private school hostel in South Kolkata, said, “As I used to stay there I could manage with my salary, as I had my meals from the hostel and didn’t need to buy anything. However, while staying at home, I have to buy rice, flour, pulses, and vegetables, and I did not get my salary. Moreover, my savings will be emptied by the end of this month. I do not know how I will continue if the lockdown extends after April.”

“We are not able to pay the salary because none of us can commute. I have asked the accountant to act fast and look into the issue so that the workers do not have to suffer,” said Leena George, the principal of the school.

Moloy Ghatak, Minister-in-Charge, Labour Department, Government of West Bengal said, “Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, and the government has urged every organisation and institution not to have a pay cut for the employees and the workers. All the workers will be paid once the lockdown ends. However, the government is distributing free food grains and ration under Public Distribution Service (PDS) for the next six months and providing mid-day meal to the informal workers and those who are living below the poverty line.”

On April 7, ILO released an analysis ‘ILO Monitor 2nd edition: COVID-19 and the world of work,’ which states 400 million workers in India, are at risk of falling deeper into poverty during the coronavirus crisis. In the press release, Guy Ryder, the Director-General of ILO, said, “This is the greatest test for international cooperation in more than 75 years. If one country fails, then we all fail. We must find solutions that help all segments of our global society, particularly those that are most vulnerable or least able to help themselves.”

“The country is going through a tough phase right now, but we have to make sure that our central workforce of informal workers should not collapse. If it collapses, then crores of people will lose their job, and the already crumbling economy will face a significant loss. Now our job is to protect the informal workers,” said Malabika Roy, professor of economics, Jadavpur University.


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