Govt plans census of unorganized sector workers

The workers will be assigned a unique identity so as to give them social security benefits including health insurance and old age pension


The government wants efforts to be made to enumerate unorganized sector workers so that their contribution can be quantified, and more of them get social security benefits. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
The government wants efforts to be made to enumerate unorganized sector workers so that their contribution can be quantified, and more of them get social security benefits. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

New Delhi: India is looking to undertake a census of workers in the so-called unorganized sector and assign them a unique identity so as to give them social security benefits including health insurance and old age pension.

All information of such workers will be verified against Aadhaar (or Unique ID) numbers wherever available to reduce any duplicity, and those who don’t have Aadhaar will be provided one, according to two government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity and a labour ministry document.

Almost 93% of India’s 475 million labour market work in the unorganized sector, according to government data. And the sector accounts for at least half of India’s gross domestic product, government data says. The Unique Identification Authority of India or UIDAI, which issues the 12-digit unique Aadhaar number, has so far enrolled 753.4 million people in India.

The unorganized sector is largely made up of proprietorships or partnerships, not usually incorporated, and which employ fewer than 10 people per establishment.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government believes that efforts must be made to enumerate unorganized sector workers so that their contribution can be quantified, and more of them get social security benefits such as employees provident fund, healthcare services, health insurance, and pension, said the first government official.

The central government discussed the matter with state labour departments in January and has asked them to start work on a census.

“Enumeration on the lines of Census will be done by States/UTs (union territories). The states shall devise the mechanism for the entire process of registration. Enumeration can be done by census staff/agencies at the same rate as conducted in Census for India. State Labour Department along with district administration will accordingly select the agency for enumeration,” said a ministry document detailing the minutes of the meeting of labour ministry officials with the state labour secretaries. Mint has reviewed a copy of the document.

According to the document, states will jointly work with the Employee Provident Fund Organization on registering workers in the unorganized sector to prevent duplication. After the census, the government will provide workers with an unorganized worker card.

“Card fascia will have photo, name, the standardized card number along with other attributes as may be decided,” according to the document.

For starters, card holders will be eligible for benefits of the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojna (RSBY), the Aam Aadmi Bima Yojana (AABY), and the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme. The first two are insurance schemes. While RSBY provides cashless hospitalization for the poor, AABY provides life and disability protection to landless families. The old age pension scheme is for the senior citizens of poor families.

The second government official said that since the central government is focused on direct benefits transfer (where benefits are directly sent to the bank account of the beneficiary), several other schemes including scholarships and food security can be incorporated in the unorganized worker card scheme soon.

The central government will shoulder the cost of the enumeration, the document said.

The second official added that the central government looks at labour reform and the welfare of unorganized sector workers as related issues, and believes that an exercise such as the one it has embarked on could hasten the movement of workers from the unorganized sector to the organized one.

“After enumeration, authorities will be in a position to know the education (levels of workers) and may ask states to provide them required training for their migration to organized sector,” this person added.

The census will also help the government track the proportion of people in the labour force, which has declined from 43% in 2004-05 to 39.5% in 2011-12, with a sharp drop in female participation rate from 29% to 22.5%, according to labour ministry estimates.

Ram Kishore Tripathi, national secretary of trade union Hind Mazdoor Sabha, said labour ministers of successive governments have spoken about benefiting poor workers but most of their actions have been beneficial to industries. The NDA government is going ahead with a lot of so-called reforms but the poor worker isn’t benefiting from any, he added. Still, unions will welcome any move that benefits workers, Tripathy said.

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