NEWS The COVID-19 crisis has drawn attention to the insecurities that haunt the lives of the urban poor. Thus, arising the need for social protection in Urban areas.
NEED FOR SOCIAL PROTECTION
The urban poor are exposed to serious contingencies, both individuals (such as illness and underemployment) and collective (lockdowns, floods, cyclones, financial crises and so on). Thus, there is a need for better social protection in urban areas.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
- Universalising the Public Distribution System in urban slums would be a step forward (and it can be done under the National Food Security Act).
- Employment-based support can be given as an urban employment guarantee act. It has two major advantages: self-targeting, and the possibility of generating valuable assets or services.
- A possibility that can be explored is the Urban employment scheme called Decentralised Urban Employment and Training (DUET).
Decentralised Urban Employment and Training (DUET)
- Under it the government, State or Union, would issue “job stamps”, each standing for one day of work at the minimum wage.
- The job stamps would be distributed to approved public institutions, who would be free to use the stamps to hire labour for odd jobs and small projects that do not fit easily within their existing budgets and systems.
- Wages, paid by the government, would go directly to the workers’ accounts against job stamps certified by the employer. To avoid collusion, an independent placement agency would take charge of assigning workers to employers.
ADVANTAGES OF DUET
- Activating a multiplicity of potential employers
- Avoiding the need for special staff
- Facilitating productive work, among others
- It would also ensure that workers have a secure entitlement to minimum wages, and possibly other benefits.
ARGUMENTS IN FAVOUR OF DUET
- There is no dearth of possible DUET jobs.
- Many possibilities are mentioned in Azim Premji University’s blueprint for an urban employment guarantee act.
- Many States have a chronic problem of dismal maintenance of public premises — DUET could provide a first line of defence against it.
- To work well, DUET would have to include some skilled workers (masons, carpenters, electricians and such). That would widen the range of possible jobs.
- It would also help to impart a training component in the scheme — workers could learn skills “on the job”, as they work alongside skilled workers.
WHY PRIORITY TO WOMEN SHOULD BE GIVEN IN DUET?
- India has one of the lowest rates of female workforce participation in the world.
- According to National Sample Survey data for 2019, only 20% of urban women in the age group of 15-59 years spend time in “employment and related activities” on an average day.
- This is a loss not only for women, but also for society as a whole.
- It stifles the productive and creative potential of almost half of the adult population.
- An absolute priority to women workers whenever available is an idea worth pursuing.
- Women could also run the placement agencies, or the entire programme to facilitate women’s involvement.
- Most of the work could be organised on a part-time basis. A part-time employment option can include making it attractive for many poor women especially with young children in urban areas.
- It would give them some economic independence and bargaining power within the family, and help them to acquire new skills.
- Further, it would reinforce the self-targeting feature of DUET, because women in relatively well-off households are unlikely to go (or be allowed to go) for casual labour at the minimum wage. Also, it would promote women’s general participation in the labour force.
- It may also help to prevent corruption, as wages would be paid directly to the workers’ accounts, and siphoning DUET funds off would require collusion with workers, real or dummy. Women may be more reluctant than men to participate in a scam, if only out of fear.
- Roping in skilled workers will take some effort, as they tend to get a fair amount of work in urban areas, and to earn relatively good wages.
- It arises the question -will the public institutions concerned make active use of the job stamps?
- In the DUET scheme, the use of job stamps relies on a sense of responsibility among the heads of public institutions, not their self-interest.
Government should implement this scheme, by way of a pilot scheme in select districts or even municipalities. This will give lessons, learnt from the mistake of pilot scheme and will help in all India implementation in coming times.