Budget ignores millions of Indian workers, say bishops

No social welfare funding for India's large unorganized labor force
Budget ignores millions of Indian workers, say bishops

An outdoor barber plies his trade on a New Delhi street in this 2013 file photograph. Although there are unions for barbers, workers such as this Delhi barber are part of India's massive unorganized workforce. (Photo by Christopher Joseph) 

ucanews.com reporter, New Delhi
March 4, 2016
India's national budget has ignored the welfare of millions of unorganized workers, said the Workers India Federation, an initiative of the Catholic bishops' Office for Labor.

The federal budget presented by Finance Minister Arul Jaitley on Feb. 29 "has sidelined" the social security needs of "450 million unorganized workers," federation president Joseph Jude said.

The government has earmarked 10 billion rupees (US$147 million) for employee pensions for the 2016-17 financial year, but "has offered nothing for the unorganized sector," Jude told ucanews.com.

He said the budget mentions a health insurance system for people below the poverty line, but makes no allocation or explains how it would be implemented. "Without budgetary allocation it becomes mere word play," said the bishops' officer.

India's latest socioeconomic and caste census revealed that the bulk of India's population remains overwhelmingly poor. The majority of them work as domestic workers, self-employed roadside laborers and daily-wage earners. These are people who help India's economy thrive, "but the state has no functioning system to help them," Jude said.

Most of the unorganized workers come from Dalit and tribal backgrounds and are too uneducated to understand their rights, he said.


Dead law

Following pressure from voluntary groups, including the church, the government enacted the Unorganized Sectors' Social Security Act in 2008. This law provides for the formulation of schemes that are meant to provide unorganized workers with life and disability cover, health and maternity benefits, old age protection and a pension.

"But until now no government has shown the political will to implement the act. With no budgetary allocation and no system to design and implement welfare schemes, it is a dead law," Jude said.

Father Jaison Vadassery, the secretary of the bishops' Office for Labor said in a statement that: "The negligence of the government in effectively implementing the social security scheme is unjustifiable."

He added that the bishops' office wants the government to allocate 3 percent of the national gross domestic product for the welfare of the unorganized sectors.

However, the church applauded other aspects of the budget. Father Frederick D'Souza, executive director of Caritas India, welcomed the federal government's allocation of 350 billion rupees for the betterment of India's agricultural industry and the farming community.

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