The Working Group of Social Security Now, an alliance of 500 organisations, met on 21-22 June 2007 in Bhopal. After one-and-a-half-day’s discussions, the group arrived at a consensus on issues, strategies, outreach initiatives and non-negotiable elements towards providing social security for unprotected workers. This paper captures the working group’s discussions and is expected to evolve as the base and guiding policy document for the campaign.
The neo-liberal paradigm is a reality of today’s global economy. The economic growth rates of states are unprecedented. Despite this, poverty, hunger and a lack of basic resources still affect a large majority across the world. India, a country that has already earned the epithet of an ‘emerging economy’ based on ‘growth’ statistics, manifests this contradiction most poignantly. Traditional means of livelihood are vanishing, increasingly becoming infeasible or are simply being snatched. Work is moving from the formal to the informal sector. An increasing number of people are working in hazardous and precarious conditions for longer hours, yet have incomes that are barely enough to meet their survival needs let alone enable them to cope with any contingencies. Traditional social support systems are vanishing rapidly with nothing new being created to replace them.
Every individual works not only to be able to survive but also to be able to maintain an adequate standard of living and lead a dignified and secure life for the self and the family.
What we have today is a situation in which people work hard and for long hours and are yet able to make enough only to just barely survive. They have nothing which they can fall back upon in times of contingencies such as unemployment, sickness, accidents, child birth, children’s education, family events such as marriages or deaths, widowhood and old age and are forced into a vicious cycle of debt and deprivation.
What is Social Security
Social security, in the broad sense of the term, means the overall security for a person in the family, work place and society. It must include the measures designed to ensure that all citizens meet their basic needs (such as adequate nutrition, shelter, health care and clean water supply), as well as be protected from contingencies (such as child birth, child care, illness, disability, death, unemployment, widowhood and old age) to enable them to maintain an adequate standard of living consistent with social norms. It must also, by implication, include the protection of livelihoods and a guarantee of work and adequate and fair wages, because, without this, other contingency benefits have no meaning.
The right to social security represents an important legal guarantee aimed at ensuring the right of every Indian to live a life in human dignity. The implementation of that right is an essential pre-condition for the realisation of other related human rights, such as the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to health, the protection of mothers and children and other rights enshrined in various human rights instruments. Thus, the recognition of social security as a human right represents an essential bridge between needs-based charity to rights-based social justice.
As a member of the United Nations, India has signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The right to social security has emerged as human right and India, under international commitments and obligations, is bound to provide social security to all citizens equally. Articles 21 to 31 of the UN’s ‘International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families 1991’ provides for social security and other labour rights of migrant workers.
The Constitution of India also provides for the right of equality, the right to life and the right of social protection in both explicit and implicit fashions. The overall spirit of the Constitution of India guarantees social security measures to workers of the unorganised sector. The Constitution of India provides the rights to equality (Article 14), freedom of speech and association (Article 19) and rights against discrimination (Article 15) and exploitation such as right against traffic in humans and right against forced labour (Article 23), and right against child labour (Article 24). The Constitution of India requires that the state should strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing justice – social, economic and political. The state is constitutionally bound to provide adequate means of livelihood, ensure that the health and strength of workers and the tender age of children is not abused, and ensure that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength [Article 39 (a), (b) and (e)]. The state is enjoined to make effective provisions for securing the right to work, education and public assistance in case of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement and other cases of undeserved want (Article 41). The state is enjoined to make provisions for securing just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief (Article 42), to endeavour to create conditions of secure work, provision of a living wage and to create conditions of work ensuring a decent standard of life and full enjoyment of leisure (Article 43). The state should regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people, and improvement of public health (Article 47).
International commitments and constitutional obligations bind the government to its responsibility of providing social security benefits to all citizens. These are covered by human rights and the constitutional right to life. The government is violating the human rights of people and the people’s right to life and equality if it does not accept its obligations and responsibilities. The government has to provide the standard social security benefits and protections without payment of charges or recovering the cost of social security. These benefits include the right to life, the right to health, the right to food, the right to education and the right to shelter. Comprehensive social security is the right of every citizen in this country.
Why should social security be provided for unorganised workers?
Since the late 1990s, India is experiencing a consistent growth in its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The GDP is the total value of all final goods and services produced in the Indian territory by Indians and all other nationals living and working on Indian territory. Census 2001 estimates that there are more than 400 million workers in India. Primarily, workers are the producers of goods and services and, therefore, are the contributors of India's GDP. Those who are in the productive age group, produce goods for themselves and for those who do not work, including children and retirees. Social security, as a system to meet the basic needs as well as contingencies of life in order to maintain an adequate standard of living, is not charity but the right of all workers because they are contributors to the national income of a country.
However, the social security system in India is so skewed that it completely keeps out about 390 million unorganised workers from its benefits. It may be recalled that 390 million unorganised and deprived workers, along with their dependents would constitute approximately 1 billion or around 80 to 85 percent of the population. It is a myth that unorganised workers do not contribute to India's national income. Experts have pointed out that the informal sector - or the unorganised sector as it is called in India - generates about 62 per cent of the GDP, 50 per cent of gross national savings, and 40 per cent of national exports. As they contribute in a greater degree towards the prosperity and growth of the economy, they have correspondingly greater claim for social security as citizens. If the unpaid work of women in the household or in the family production activities were also accounted for, the contribution of unorganised informal workers would be even more.
However, it is ironic that the government gives subsidies and tax concessions worth billions to the rich, increasing income disparity in India. Unorganised and informal workers have a genuine claim for social security funding from the national income to which they contribute substantially.
The ILO core labour standards and other conventions, which India has ratified, give workers the right to social security as a labour right. Social security is a labour right because social security originates from work and is claimed out of the income towards which the labour has contributed.
Unorganised workers demand social security as a labour right. Unorganised workers also believe that the government should provide social security to all citizens because it is a human right.
The Government of India is bound by international treaties and constitutional commitments to do so.
Unorganised workers, as citizens, have given the government the right to govern in order to protect the human rights of all Indian citizens, including their right of life as well as their right to decent and dignified work.
Comprehensive social security - meaning and implications
Elements that make legislation 'comprehensive'
The Constitution guarantees rights including the right to life, health, food, education and work to all its citizens. These rights ensure an adequate standard of living for everyone in order to lead a dignified life. Work and livelihood are means through which people realise most of these rights for themselves and their families. Therefore, for citizens to enjoy their basic rights, it is critical to recognise and protect their rights as workers. Decent, dignified and safe work is a precondition for actual social security and this can only happen if workers rights are recognised and employment is regulated. The regulation and protection of livelihood and employment relates mainly to service conditions and conditions of work. Regulation and protection do not mean closed door employment or a livelihood in which benefits are restricted to those who are inside, i.e., only limited number of workers who are registered like Mathad workers in Maharashtra.
The provisions of regulation and protection would ensure decent work with dignity. Social security protections are relevant and meaningful only if these provisions of regulation and protection of employment and livelihood are incorporated. Without employment, livelihood and humane conditions of work, social security can never be a reality for 390 million unorganised workers in India.
Social Security Now, therefore, demands comprehensive social security legislation which ensures citizen rights, worker's rights and has employment regulation as a key component.
1. Citizen's Rights:
a. Right to life
b. Right to equality
c. Right to health
d. Right to food
e. Right to education
f. Right to water
g. Right to work and livelihood
2. Worker's Right
Social Security, as defined by ILO in convention no. 102, enumerates nine risks or core contingencies that lead to the stoppage or substantial reduction of earnings. Unorganised and informal workers need to be protected against these nine contingencies which are:
c. Employment injury
f. Old age
h. Need for long term medical care
i. Need to support families with children
3. Regulation of Employment
The facets of employment conditions that call for regulation include:
a. Stipulation and enforcement of service and working conditions including protection against sexual harassment, safety, amenities and facilities and childcare.
b. Regulation of wages including rate and price for self-employed workers and the adoption of measures to ensure a living wage and equal pay for equal work.
c. The regulation of entry into jobs and exit from jobs.
d. Leave with income.
e. The right to organise, to represent groups and to enter into collective bargaining.
f. Quantum of work and working hours
g. Dispute settlement mechanisms including in-house mechanisms and dispute settlement via conciliation (such as for incidences of sexual harassment)
h. Right against all forms of discrimination e. g. on the ground of caste, gender, colour, religion etc.
Separate social security legislation for agriculture workers should be instituted recognising the particular circumstances and specific needs of various categories of agriculture workers.
Most women work whether paid or unpaid. Women do a lot of unpaid work within the household and in family farms and enterprises. Despite its obvious economic and social worth, much of the work that women do remains 'invisible' in national accounting and censuses. Their work is not recognised as 'productive' work nor taken into account while defining the 'informal sector' and assessing its contribution to the GDP. Unpaid women workers should be recognised as unorganised workers.
Other key concerns to be addressed in the comprehensive legislation
4. Wages, Minimum Wages and Living Wages
a. It was proposed that for the purposes of calculating wages and social security provisions under the Comprehensive Social Security law for unorganised workers, the minimum wages fixed by the central government for construction workers under MW Act 1948 should be used as a base.
b. Minimum wages should approximate living wage. For the purposes of the law, living wages should be calculated based on the principle of need-based wages as defined in the 15th Indian Labour Conference, the Supreme Court and the United Nations. For piece-rate workers, an equivalent fallback component and income needs to be worked out. With respect to minimum piece-rate living wages, the minimum time-rate living wages should be fixed as fallback wages.
5. Funds and Management of Funds
a. Social security funding: The government should fund base-level social security that ensures all citizens their basic rights. Additionally, a one-time contribution from workers can be charged as registration fee renewal every three years. This should not be more than Rs 10. In order to ensure that women receive equal benefits from social security, steps should be taken to redress the factors that prevent women from making equal contributions due to intermittent participation in the workforce because of family responsibilities and unequal wage outcomes.
b. Levels of basic social security needs: The expenditure on nine basic social security components should be from the Consolidated Fund of India. The central board should transfer funds to state boards or industry/occupation-wise sub-boards. Minimum living wages accorded to the construction workers by the central government should be the benchmark for evolving the quantum of social security.
1) The pension on attaining 60 years age should be 50 per cent of the living wages
2) Unemployment allowance for a limited period of three months or till the worker gets employment
3) Health benefits or medical care should be as per the needs of the worker and dependent family members
4) Maternity benefit should be full wages with three months leave and medical care as per the needs
5) Government should fulfil its obligation to ensure the right to education to all under the social security umbrella. This will not require additional funds as it will be covered under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.
Additional social security benefits should be contributory. Workers and employers may contribute. The additional funds collected by the sub-boards will not be transferred to the other sub-boards.
6. Dispute Settlement
a. The comprehensive social security legislation should prescribe simplified time-bound dispute resolution mechanisms through mediation, conciliation and arbitration. These disputes may pertain to wage payment, safety concerns, working hours, human rights violations, health hazards, refusal of leave or displacement, police harassment, confiscation of goods, extortion of money by inspection employees or goons, non payment of compensation or the denial of ration cards. Disputes between employed workers and main employers, contractors, sub-contractors or others and disputes between self-employed workers and authorities such as the police, municipalities, corporations or others need to be resolved expeditiously by mediation, conciliation and compulsory arbitration.
b. Complaint and redressal mechanisms against sexual harassment at the workplace should be created, keeping in mind the specific concerns of women workers in the unorganised sector. The employment security of a female worker-complainant must be guaranteed.
c. Atrocities and cases of discrimination against Dalit workers should be addressed through Dalit Vigilance Committees. Dalit workers should be in decision-making positions in these committees.
7. Equality and Non-discrimination
a. Steps should be taken to guarantee social security to everyone without any discrimination. All discrimination on prohibited grounds which prevents individuals and groups from accessing adequate social security should be removed.
b. Special attention should be paid to those individuals and groups who have traditionally faced difficulties in exercising rights. Additional protective measures are necessary for Adivasis to protect their rights to water and forest land; for Dalit workers to ensure their rights on land and rights against discrimination; for migrants and urban workers to ensure their right of access to food, livelihood and housing; for women workers for the protection of rights against discrimination in wages, recruitment, skill development, promotion, prevention of sexual harassment and for their core labour rights encompassing economic, social, cultural and human rights with dignity.
8. Administration of Social Security
a. The comprehensive social security legislation should prescribe tripartite boards at central and state levels with enabling provisions of the constitution of industry or occupation-wise sub-boards for better social security protections, in light of the peculiar and special conditions of the industry or occupation. In the tripartite boards, there should be a proportionate representation of Dalits, Adivasis, women and other marginalised sections of workers.
b. Tripartite Boards: The administration of social security system or legislation should be by tripartite central and state boards and workers' facilitation centres (WFC) or sectoral sub-boards' units (SSBU) with a majority of representatives being unorganised workers. Ministers or bureaucrats should not nominate these workers' representatives, which is the normal practice of obliging cronies. Instead, they could be elected or nominated by organisations of workers. WFCs, or sectoral sub-boards' units, will be service centres that will register workers, issue identity cards and deliver social security protections. They will implement the law and maintain all accounts and records. Central and state boards will formulate policies, modify schemes, collect funds from the government and others, allocate budgets to WFCs/SSBUs, maintain accounts, resolve major national- or regional-level disputes, and monitor the overall working of the Social Security Administration.
c. Statutory Central Board: The Central Social Security Board should be entrusted with the powers necessary to create new social security rights, modify the existing model scheme which will be part of the legislation on social security, provide policy guidelines to the government and the state boards, prepare a budget, create and manage the Social Security Fund, hear and decide major disputes relating to working conditions, livelihood and employment and disputes which involve one or more government authorities. It will also monitor the working of the state boards and provide advice, direction and assistance for their smooth and effective functioning.
d. Statutory State Board: State-level Social Security Boards should be entrusted with the powers and functions necessary to implement the social security legislation, modify the existing model scheme as required by local conditions, supervise WFCs, provide guidelines, establish a system of dispute resolution, create a system of medical infrastructure and maintain records and accounts at the state level, among others. State boards will also fix and revise the wages of workers in various occupations.
e. Sectoral Sub-boards: The needs and circumstances of different categories of workers in different industries, sectors and occupations are different and require different types of benefits, additional benefits and protections, different conditions of work and protections of their labour rights. Therefore, state boards may constitute sub-boards for different occupations, industries or sectors with powers to prepare different and modified schemes, fix wages or rates for different classes of workers and coordinate, supervise and implement the entire social security for the class of workers for which these sub-boards are constituted. The sectoral sub-boards will be constituted in the states on the basis of the number of workers registered under one occupation or industry and the census data on the particular industry as per the NSSO. While central and state boards will work as apex boards, industry or occupation-wise sub-boards will be created by apex boards if the peculiar, special or additional conditions or needs of such occupations or industries call for their creation, towards the better and effective administration of social security.
f. WFC or Sectoral Sub-boards' Units (SSUB): At places with a high concentration of the workers' population, for each district or for every three lakh workers, a WFC or the Sectoral Sub-boards' Unit will become the agency or office for the registration of employers, workers and the issue of identity cards. WFCs will deliver the actual monetary benefits of social security to registered workers and their family members and will ensure the provision of healthcare and welfare and the skill development of workers. The WFC or SSUB will register all unorganised and informal workers and employers and issue them identity cards. As WFCs/SSUBs will be in direct contact with workers, they will perform all duties entrusted to them by state boards. They should intervene in all disputes, mediate, and enforce decisions.
9. Non-Negotiables for Social Security
1. A comprehensive bill for the social security of unorganised workers was proposed to ensure that the social security legislation should incorporate labour rights, social security rights and all the essential components of social security in the clause of definitions without ambiguity and without dilution. The definition of social security should include safety at the work place. It should include land rights in rural and agricultural regions with an emphasis on Dalit workers, the rights of Adivasis on forest and land, the housing rights of urban workers and the right of access to the Public Distribution System (PDS) for all workers and particularly for migrant workers who change their addresses frequently.
1. We reaffirm the necessity of incorporating employment assurance or guarantee, livelihood protection, minimum wage and minimum income protection and employment regulation with social security in the legislation.
2. The government should issue individual identity cards for all categories of workers, including self-employed, unemployed and marginal farmers.
3. The government should fund the entire social security fund with a minimal one-time contribution from workers and a renewal fee in two or three years. The level of the social security needs of workers and family members should be determined and, accordingly, the requirement of funds should be calculated. In principle, five per cent of the GDP should be spent on social security.
1. The government should not privatise social security. The government should provide health services or medical care through dispensaries and hospitals of the social security boards and should, under no circumstances allow the privatisation of health services or insurance-based medical care for unorganised workers.
2. The law should not differentiate between BPL and APL workers. All unorganised informal workers should get social security. The definition of unorganised informal worker should not contain any wage or income ceiling. The tripartite boards should be entrusted with the function of excluding certain privileged groups of unorganised workers from the purview of social security benefits (for example, IT and BPO workers and rich self employed workers).
3. The law should provide for protective provisions for Dalits and Adivasis and particularly for Dalit agricultural workers and Dalit women by constituting vigilance committees, providing land to Dalit agriculture workers, abolishing manual scavenging, protecting Dalits against caste-based discrimination and exclusions and stringently punishing violations.
4. All women workers, paid and unpaid, need additional protective cover in the law for equal wages and service conditions, need a mechanism for the prevention of sexual harassment, need maternity benefits with leave, need widow pensions and legal aid. All women should be entitled to social security benefits as independent workers and not as dependents of male earning members or as part of the family/household. The employment status of a male member in the family must not be the criterion for availability of the entitlements to women.
We reaffirm the need for tripartism in administration of social security provisions and dispute resolution. In the tripartite forum, women workers, Dalits, Dalit women, Adivasis and other classes of workers should be given proportionate representation.
7. The proposed law must necessarily incorporate provisions described in this document of non-negotiables and as resolved by the trade unions in the meeting on 19 October 2006.
8. We further emphasise the need for a separate comprehensive legislation for agricultural workers, which would focus on their especially vulnerable circumstances while providing for dispute resolution, social security, income protection and debt redemption.