Thursday May 30, 2024

Secure labour

By Editorial Board
December 16, 2017

The plight of workers remains a topic we often return to – possibly because little ever changes in the challenges they face. New data obtained through a Right to Information request shows an alarming statistic. Amongst the 2.6 million registered workers in seven regions in Punjab, 1.7 million have no social security coverage, something that is mandatory for employers to pay for all of their employees. Social security ensures that workers receive pensions and old-age grants. With almost 75 percent of registered workers not being on the social security list, one must ask what the Punjab Employees Social Security Institution (PESSI) or the Labour Department have been doing to ensure that the social security payments of these workers are paid? We already know the answer to this one: no one really cares. Not even the departments tasked with making labour their priority. It also appears that at least 13 out of the 20 regions in Punjab have not provided any data over the number of workers registered. In some areas, the percentage of workers receiving social security is even lower, going down to only nine percent. That might just mean that more workers are actually registered than other regions, but the actual payment of obligations remains the same.

If the numbers are so low for registered workers, then one can only wonder how poor the really is across the country. This information – obtained through a private citizen asking for the data to be shared – also shows how useful the RTI legislations could be for showing how government departments are performing on key tasks. Another important statistic would be to see what percentage of workers in each region is registered. This would require comparison with labour surveys. It should be obvious that millions of workers are never registered. But a breakdown of how many workers are, and in what sectors and so on, would allow the identification of priority areas. It does, though, seem a little pointless to talk about priorities when workers are on the lowest rung of the state’s priorities. PESSI can continue to issue notices to employers as it claims but these notices only matter if something changes by way of policy at the top. Even as we complain about the poor situation for unregistered workers, it is clear that the Punjab government can simply start by ensuring that all the 2.6 million workers on its books have social security coverage. This is a task that can be completed on an emergency basis.