Strengthening systems to ensure rights of informal workers: Labour registration and beyond

A Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) note on workshop organised for the need to strengthen systems to ensure rights of informal workers in the backdrop of new labour codes:

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), an NGO working on legal empowerment and access to justice, organised a capacity building program on issues facing workers. The aim of the event was to discuss the current system of labour registration and the effect of the new labour codes on the registration process and social security of unorganised workers. The program witnessed participation of labour activists, social workers and Labour Entitlement Facilitators (LECs) from the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

Over 60 participants from different districts of these states shared their views on the existing registration process of unorganised workers and the practical difficulties faced by them. The Supreme Court during the first lockdown had ordered the Central Government to develop a mechanism for registration of unorganised workers. In pursuance of this order, the Central Government launched the NDUW (National Database on Unorganised Workers), i.e, the e-Shram portal on 26th August, 2021 to register and collect information about unorganised workers throughout the country.

Although this is a long overdue measure, its implementation on the ground has been haphazard. One of the primary impediments to implementation is that the labour law regime in India is currently in the process of being overhauled, leading to confusion on the ground. Facilitators who aid and assist unorganised workers in registering them on the E-Shram portal, expressed that some states have their parallel registration process which is adding up to the duality.

Workers now have to register themselves on both the Central Government’s portal and state portal. While they get some entitlements post registration on the state’s portal, the benefits and process to get benefits under the central scheme are unclear, at least as of now. The E-Shram portal requires seeding with Aadhaar that serves as verification process. These workers who work in unorganised sectors come from the marginalised section of society.

There are cases where these workers do not have Aadhaar, and in cases where they have Aadhaar, there is a mismatch in the mobile number, which disentitles them as OTP linking is required for registration. The portal also seeks details of nominees and their date of birth and blood group details. As per field experiences shared, filing the nominee details is a tough task as they don’t have birth certificates. While some of this information is non-compulsory, there is lack of clarity on whether it will be needed later to avail benefits of schemes. Moreover, there is currently no guarantee that schemes will lead to actual entitlement/benefits. Only when social security is guaranteed as a statutory right, can there be a remedy against its violation.

Taking the conversation forward, Chandan Kumar (National Coordinator of Working People’s Charter) and Manali Shah (National Secretary) of the Self-Employed Women’s Association shared their insights on the challenges that the new labour codes are likely to result in. Overall, both speakers emphasized the need to shift the social security regime of the unorganised workers from charity based (on the basis of schemes) to statutory entitlement based rights with proper budgetary allocations and monitoring mechanisms for proper implementation of the unorganised workers rights.

Sonvi Khanna from Dasra further shared how industries have a critical role to play in light of these changes. Building on this, we shared experiences of different collaborative / multi-stakeholder and sustainable models for ensuring registration and social security of unorganised workers.

Here, Tejas Pahalajani from Dasra and Dr Asha Verma from Gujarat National Law University discussed how collaborative models with industry and legal aid clinics in law colleges can open new avenues for facilitating labour entitlements.

Consolidating the entire event, it became clear that the current situation is far from ideal. On the basis of an analysis of the participants’ experience and the current registration system in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, the following recommendations will be made to corresponding Government duty-bearers.

1) Unorganised and building and other construction workers registration should happen continuously (without technical difficulties).

2) The Labour Department must take responsibility for implementing registration drives in collaboration with the District and State Legal Services Authority – both physically and online. There should also be synergies developed with Lok Seva Kendras (bodies established and working to fulfill the objective of Public Service Guarantee Act, 2011).

3) There should be effective implementation of NALSA (Legal Services to the Workers in the Unorganized Sector) Scheme, 2015 by conducting regular service camps in collaboration with the Labour Department and Welfare Board.

4) There should be a toll free helpline to assist the labourers in the registration process and a physical centre for grievance redressal and spreading clear information relating to eligibility, procedure and benefits of social security schemes.

5) The registration process needs to be free of cost across all states.

6) CSCs should be continuously involved and the government should compensate the VLEs involved in the registration process fairly so as to avoid bribes and reduce access difficulty for unorganised workers who approach them for registration and other entitlement facilitations. Also, self-registration of unorganised workers and building and other construction should be enabled and this process should be made available in vernacular languages.

7) The requirement to submit a 90 day work certificate for building and other construction worker registration should be replaced with a self declaration form.

8) There should be a central and state level convergence of all registrations done under different legislations and processes so as to avoid duplication and unnecessary burden on workers for re-registration. For example: building workers upon registration used to get red books earlier in Gujarat. These registrations should be merged with all new registration processes.

9) A Nodal officer should be appointed for monitoring different labour registration processes and the Review Report tracking this process should be publicly released for better accountability.

10) Social security schemes that cater to the unique vulnerabilities of different categories of unorganised workers are to be developed and implemented. Adequate budgetary allocations should be made for the same.

11) For eShram registration, Aadhar card and mobile linking should not be made mandatory, alternative forms of verifying identification should be allowed.

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