Revival of Economic Activities after Gradual Relaxation Under the Lockdown: Concern of our Economic Warriors

It is heartening to note the resumption of economic activities with the gradual relaxation under lockdown owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. A third of NSE manufacturing companies are at work; nearly 30% of the textile industry in Surat have opened; FMCG companies have jobs and have asked the Govt. through CII to support to enhance labor footprint; and India’s top online marketplaces have begun accepting orders for both essential and non-essential products.

The key concern in the resumption of economic activities is the labor footprint, and my concern is the rights and wellbeing of migrant, contractual and other unorganized workers, who I call “the economic warriors”. We all have witnessed the helpless conditions of a large section of these people and how they have been forced to come back home in very desperate conditions, and some by foot. Although these warriors are key to values creation in the economic system, very little is done to protect their rights and maintain their wellbeing.

The Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979; the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970; the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996; and the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008 have failed to protect the rights of our “economic warriors” during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is an irony that some states are suspending some key provision and relaxing other requirements in the labour laws meant to protect the rights of the workers.

While industry need flexibility to overcome the challenges arising out of COVID-19 pandemic and enforcement of some provisions of some labour laws can be barriers to flexibility, rights of our “economic warriors”  can’t be compromised on the plea of flexibility, in the long-term socio-economic interests. There is need to follow the laws both in letter and spirit, build a climate of trust between all stakeholders and share the benefits and burdens in a fair manner in times of hardship. While the Govt. has put in place a number of measures to support the “economic warriors”, many may not benefit owing lack of identity under the provisions of laws. Following the law in both letter and spirit will enable proper inclusion of the beneficiaries under the social security schemes of the Govt. and keep our “economic warriors” fighting fit.

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