“Employment up, but informal workers face low wage and low consumption” – Results of Round II of the National Survey on Informal Workers
Date : 10-February-2021
New Delhi, February 10 | Yashodha is an agricultural worker in Tiruppur, Tamil Nadu. She was a bonded labour in a private coconut farm when she was young. After her husband’s death, she has struggled to survive on her meagre wages. She has been taking loans from self-help groups, microfinance institutions, and private money lenders to pay off older debts, and is now indebted to the sum of rupees 1,00,000. During the lockdown, she was without any source of livelihood for more than forty-five days. Since the lockdown was lifted, she could not get regular work due to her advanced age. Her gender and lower caste status further add to her vulnerabilities. She has had to depend almost entirely upon her neighbours and PDS for food. Her only income sources have been irregular MGNREGA work and the monetary support provided by the State Government for two months.
Yashoda (name changed to protect her identity) is not alone. Around 48% of workers contacted in the second round of the National Study on Informal Workers conducted by ActionAid Association said they were still unemployed in the unlock phase. The second round of the survey showed marked improvement from the first round undertaken during the lockdown period. Then 78% of the workers interviewed reported having lost their livelihoods. However, close to 42% amongst workers who had resumed employment, say that they were partially employed, that is they were either getting work occasionally or working fewer hours. This was also borne out by the intensity of work reported in the unlock phase, which went up compared to the lockdown phase but is nowhere near the pre-lockdown situation.
The second round of the survey covered more than 16,900 informal workers in over 400 districts in 23 states across the country. The survey was carried out from 23rd August 2020 to 8th September 2020 in the transition period from Unlock 3.0 to Unlock 4.0, the third and fourth phases of the government’s phase-wise reopening of the lockdown.
Respondents were asked about a range of issues regarding their livelihoods and wages, savings, consumption and expenditure, and access to welfare schemes. Nearly a third of the respondents were from urban areas while 72% were from rural areas, and 63% of the sample identified themselves as male, 37% as female, and 17 respondents as transgender. The study seeks to create a deeper understanding of how the ongoing crisis impacts the lives of workers in the informal sector.
As employment has still not reached pre-lockdown levels, monthly wages received by workers remained extremely low. Almost 24% of respondents reported having zero wages in the unlock phase, and close to 50% said their monthly wages were less than Rs 5,000. Additionally, over 64% of the respondents said that they had not received the wages due to them at the time of the lockdown.
Given the low levels of employment and wages, the stress on consumption and savings was clearly visible. Overall, 68% of respondents said that their level of food consumption was not sufficient for them. Close to 88% of workers said that their savings were not enough for them. This included 93% of respondents in urban areas and 86% of respondents in rural areas. Moreover, around 39% of workers reported that they had to borrow to support themselves in the unlock phase. This included 47% of workers in urban areas and 36% of workers in rural areas. Respondents who migrated for work before the lockdown seemed unwilling to resume migration, with nearly 54% of such workers saying that they wanted to continue staying in their source districts. The primary reasons included fear of catching COVID-19 in the destination district, lack of job opportunities, and uncertainty about the time it would take for the situation to be ‘normalised’.
These findings highlight the need to support informal workers regain and rebuild their livelihoods and protect them from sliding into further indebtedness and poverty.
On the occasion of the release of the report, Sandeep Chachra, Executive Director, ActionAid Association said: “ActionAid Association has undertaken this longitudinal survey to track the condition of informal workers across the country. We need to understand what steps are needed to enable workers and people dependent on the informal economy cope with the COVID-19 situation and their enhanced vulnerabilities. We hope that the recommendations included in the report, which draw upon and reiterate what many trade unions, workers collectives, and civil society networks have been saying, are put into action to protect and respond to the needs of informal workers.”
ActionAid Association is an organisation working for social and ecological justice. ActionAid has been engaged with the most marginalised communities in India since 1972. In 2006, ActionAid Association was registered as an Indian organisation, governed by an independent General Assembly and a Governing Board. Together with supporters, communities, institutions and governments, we strive for equality, fraternity and liberty for all. ActionAid Association works in 24 states and two union territories, with several partners and allied organisations.
ActionAid Association is part of a global federation and a full affiliate of ActionAid International, that has presence in over 40 countries worldwide.
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