INFORMAL WORKFORCE IN INDIA – CHALLENGES TO SOCIAL SECURITY IN THE WAKE OF COVID-19: A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS WITH SE ASIA ON STEPS TAKEN
Human capital development gained importance in the theory of economic development at the onset of the new millennium. As stated by ILO social security should not be seen as a cost but as an investment in human capital, that enhances efficiency, reduces poverty and leads to more sustainable development. Emerging economies often have large informal sectors and SE Asia is home to one-third of the world’s poor coupled with high population densities and struggling public health systems. An approximate 90% of labour is self-employed or engaged as casual labour on daily wages without any social protection which makes a source of livelihood an imperative to preserve lives.
Covid-19 induced lockdown and physical distancing have led to increasing unemployment and uncertainty in income security. ILO estimates 1.25 billion people globally at a risk of salary reductions or lost jobs; especially those engaged in tourism, hotels, restaurants and manufacturing. Social Security plays an important role here in minimising uncertainty, risk and guaranteeing some income replacement. The countries now need to focus more on support programs, strengthen digital payment systems, increased use to digital technology for a more widespread reach of programs and Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT).
Previous epidemics like SARS and Ebola had highlighted the need for effective social protection measures and health interventions as a part of government policy response. Most vulnerable groups comprise of older persons, persons with disabilities and chronic diseases, workers engaged in the unorganised sector, domestic workers, migrant workers, homeless people and women. Social Security has a big gender bias making women a particularly disadvantaged group.
This paper explores the challenges of social security faced by the large unorganised workforce of India amidst this unprecedented situation of exigency. It also analyses the measures taken in India vis a vis South East Asia to counter the adverse impact of the contagion and what additional steps can the government of India take to safeguard the interests of this vulnerable section of the economy..