An occupation is something imperative in sustaining a family and oneself, and in a country of 1.36 billion people, work is important. The coronavirus pandemic has set in and thousands are out of a job. As their fate is completely in the unknown, it is time to analyze whether there is a right to work within the largest democracy in the world.
The right to work is not recognized as a fundamental right within the Constitution of India. Article 41 of the Indian Constitution consists of a right to work, education, and public help. It lies in Part IV of the Indian Constitution under the ambit of the Directive Principles of State Policy. Hence, it cannot be contended in a court of law. Rather, it exists as a guideline for States to follow and plan their policies upon.
In the Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation case, the Court had included the right to work within the ambit of Article 21 of the Constitution. Here, the Court had held that the right to a livelihood came under the right to life as defined by Article 21. But this did not mean the State was forced to employ everyone. Only for those who got terminated from their employment unless under the procedure of law would such an interpretation apply to.
MNREGA: An Efficient Mechanism to Confer the Right?
MNRERA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) is a statutory provision by the Centre. This provision allows for a minimum of 100 days of wage employment within a financial year. Every family whose adults engage in unskilled manual labour receives benefits from this Act. The Act would allow a person to get an unemployment allowance if they had registered under MGNREGA but still no work could be found. It is the responsibility of the State to provide employment and the State can be held liable if it refuses to give an unemployment allowance. The rights given by MGNREGA is not a constitutional right, but a statutory right. These rights can be taken away at the will of the government. But the benefits of MGNREGA are limited to unskilled labour.
Skilled labour, especially white-collar jobs lack the adequate protection standards required to maintain proper standards of living. The employees working under companies are kept under contract and are only released when the contract is over. The lack of proper unionization or benefits for private jobs has led to much of the workforce of India being under-protected and are open to massive exploitation by their employers. India is a populous country. Thus, the country possesses a large workforce, which would be beneficial to the country, if utilized. But the increased use of technology in the manufacturing process has reduced the amount of labour needed to run an industry.
A large amount of the workforce has been rendered jobless as a result. The problem of jobless growth is a huge issue for India, as the GDP of the country is not linked with the availability of jobs. A substantial amount of the workforce gets left behind while calculating the GDP of the country. Hence, even if the GDP grows, unemployment still becomes a huge issue, thus the term ‘jobless growth’. MGNREGA fails to address these issues and thus fails to guarantee job security for all.
Jean Dreze is an economist who was instrumental in helping to draft MGNREGA. He has suggested a new system to provide urban job security within India. The fall in income and the sudden onset of a lack of jobs owing to the coronavirus pandemic has proven to become a wake-up call. The lack of a system of proper job security was evident. A Decentralized Urban Employment and Training system wherein job stamps or vouchers are given to the public. This was the system suggested by Dreze. Stamps will be given to government institutions such as colleges, public health institutions, etc. The stamps can then be used to hire labour specific to the task they need.
A coherent system between the government and the local institutions, facilitating adequate workers protection is thus created. In such a system, the employment created would be specific to the skill of the labourer. This would be beneficial in the creation of a labour-intensive skill-based system which would be beneficial for all the parties involved. Urban areas have a high worker demand owing to the large number of projects being undertaken there. Most labourers who work in urban areas live in deplorable slum conditions with little to no job security. Ensuring a minimum wage system for these workers and providing proper workers unions for the labourer’s based on government protocols would highly increase the maximum utility of the labour resources while ensuring that the integrity of the worker remains intact. The minimum wage for a defined eight-hour workday within India is 176 rupees.
An increase in the minimum wage would be recommended as the current wage is extremely meager to meet all the needs of a household. But such a system should not become the norm for employment within the country. Rather, such a system must be used as a framework. The State government could build a system of their own based on this framework, allowing scope for privatization. The ramping up of revenue to facilitate government constructions which includes a cohesive relationship between the Centre and State on labour issues would help to facilitate the creation of a system wherein the Centre would actively take part in the labour issues of the State while respecting State laws.
The right to work is imperative to facilitate the functions of a basic household and to maintain proper living conditions for all the people. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has included the right to work within the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Thus, India has a responsibility to ensure that the rights of all workers within this country are protected.
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