Programme on Women’s Economic Social and Cultural Rights( PWESCR)
09 December 2006, Priti Darooka, PWESCR
A National Convention of about 500-700 NGO/Trade Union/Peoples’ Movement representatives on issues of Social Security for unorganised workers was held between October 26th and 28th, 2006, at Nagpur to discuss issues relating to social security for the unorganised sector workers. The Convention aimed to forge meaningful alliance and coordination of Trade Unions and People movements, Dalit, women’s groups, forest peoples, agriculture workers etc. with NGOs to build a base of unorganised workers. It looked critically at relevant legislative proposals and draft bills including the draft bill of Second National Commission on Labour, the draft bills developed by the ministry of labour, the draft bill of National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS), other alternatives and suggestions made by activists, trade unions and labour experts.
The Convention was called by a consortium of 14 NGO networks comprising of Bindrai Institute for Research Study and Action (BIRSA), Ranchi; National Alliance on Fundamental Right to Education (NAFRE), Delhi; Centre for Education and Communication (CEC), Delhi; National Campaign Committee for Unorganised Sector Workers (NCC-USW), Delhi; Delhi Forum, Delhi; National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), Delhi; Foundation for Educational Innovations in Asia (FEDINA), Bangalore; National Institute of Women, Child and Youth Development (NIWCYD), Nagpur; Human Rights and Law Network (HRLN), Delhi; Programme on Women’s Economic Social and Cultural Rights( PWESCR), Delhi; Indian Social Institute (ISI), Delhi; Women’s Voice, Bangalore; LAYA, Vishakhapatinam and Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA), Mumbai.
Legislation on social security is a strategy to strengthen the unorganized workers economically and socially, to give them an identity and to ensure their rights. Legislation is particularly important in a situation where all the existing laws have an implicit exclusion of unorganized workers. Social security benefits are essentially a part of universal human rights. In India which is the largest democracy of the world, social protection remains the biggest challenge. The unorganized sector in India comprising of over 300 million workers are deprived of these benefits, which according to National Sample Survey 1999-2000 is about 92% of the total workforce in the country.
Deliberations were held on issues like ‘Social Security versus Employment regulation’, ‘Discrimination in Social Security Benefits’, ‘Social Exclusion, Discrimination and Violence based on Caste’, ‘Women and Social Security’, ‘Sexual Harassment, Violence and Gender Discrimination in Unorganised Sector’, ‘Structure of Social Security administration’, ‘Social Security fund – sources and method of collection’ ‘Need for a separate Comprehensive Law for Agriculture Workers’, ‘Feasibility of Insurance Based Social Security and Privatization of Insurance, alternative ways as in ESI Scheme’ and ‘New Economic Reforms and Unorganised Sector’. The participants at the Convention divided themselves into groups to discuss each of these issues.
The group discussion on ‘Women and Social Security’ was facilitated by PWESCR. Representatives from Dalit rights organisations, domestic workers, sex workers and construction workers unions among others participated in the discussion. The group discussed various concerns regarding social security, particularly from the point of view of the various Bills in circulation.
The group recommended separate identity cards women as workers, and a range of social security entitlements including unemployment benefits, pension and old age support, maternity benefits, childcare, as well as health and nutrition for mother and child. They also recommended the inclusion of redressal mechanisms against sexual harassment at the workplace, short stay homes, shelter and support services like counselling and legal aid for survivors of domestic violence, trafficking and sexual harassment, and skill development opportunities to facilitate women’s entry into the labour market and for upward mobility.
It was also suggested that social security entitlements must be accessible to all women workers, whether paid or unpaid; it must include all categories of women workers under the definition of unorganised sector – for eg. domestic workers, sex workers, entertainment workers, migrant workers-seasonal and permanent, homes based and self employed workers, street vendors, pre-agricultural and hunter gatherer communities; it must also include payment of minimum wages based on the living need of all workers, equal wages for equal work irrespective of sex, caste or religion. All housing schemes under social security provisions should ensure that titles are given out in the women’s name or are joint names.
Last but not least, women workers should be involved adequately and proportionally at all stages including the drafting, administration and implementation of this Bill. Mechanisms for grievance redressal must be women friendly.
These concerns have not been addressed adequately in any of the Bills in circulation. For instance, all the Bills define unorganised workers as “a person for wages or income directly…”, thus completely excluding the category of unpaid workers, majority of whom are women.
The National Convention on Unorganised Workers concluded with a resolution that called for a comprehensive legislation to be introduced in the parliament ensuring social security and employment security for all workers in the unorganized sector and a separate legislation for agricultural workers. A plan of action towards this was also proposed including mass mobilization all over India, networking with like minded groups and putting pressure on the government at all levels including focused campaign at the constituency level seeking intervention by the Parliament on this. The Convention unanimously rejected the NCEUS Bill.
It was emphasized that the legislation should be administered through tripartite boards at various levels and sectors. The composition of these boards should have adequate representation of workers, women, dalits, OBCs, adivasis and unpaid workers. Unorganised sector workers social security fund must be through budgeted allocation by the central government and not based on the exclusive contribution of workers. The workers contribution must be by way of a one time registration fee subject to renewal for every 2 years. Minimum level of social security benefits must be quantified and the budgetary allocation towards the social security fund must have relative nexus to the benefits quantified. It has been recommended that the Government of India contribute a minimum of 3 to 5% of the GDP towards this.
A Nagpur Declaration, which will be circulated soon, approved by the convention called upon trade unions, community organisations, peoples’ movements, NGOs and organizations that represent other segments of the working class, including the unemployed and workers in the informal economy to forge alliances to bring increased “power of representation” of the unorganized workers to the negotiation table.