Right to urban livelihood: New dimension
Cities of India are striving to be ‘world-class cities’, ‘efficient growth centres’ and ‘centres of innovation’. Government policies and urban planning promote the cities in two different ways: one, developing them as nodes of financial growth at the cost of manufacturing with emphasis on services; second, commercializing all resources, including land, water, energy, transport, etc. so that greater revenue may accrue to city governments. In this context the urban poor face a situation of dual crisis – where, on one hand, they are being evicted and displaced from their shelter and, on the other hand, their livelihoods are being taken away through ‘modernisation’ and ‘mechanisation’. Such attacks on livelihood of the poor are not a recent phenomenon. Taking the case of Delhi, since 1996 there has been mass closure of almost 40,000 industrial units and, following the trend, in 2005-06 there has been sealing of around 1,000 commercial properties.
Today, the government is claiming the country’s economy is growing rapidly and the indicator is that the stock market index is touching new heights and crossing the magic figure of 20,000. Five star hotels, huge shopping malls, flyovers, metro rail, affordable air travel, etc, create an illusion of a booming economy. However, other aspects of the society such as destroyed settlements, devastated employment, criminal and suicidal activities are also growing day by day. Globalization has promoted use of technology to reduce the labor force and increase the profits. This adversely affects the most vulnerable groups like slum dwellers, homeless workers, construction workers, domestic workers, rickshaw pullers, rag-pickers, and so on. Financial growth at the cost of manufacturing with emphasis on the services shifts people from the formal to informal sector, and gives rise to different forms of ‘illegality’.
A project of the UNDP on National Strategy for Urban Livelihoods provided an opportunity to a federation of groups in Delhi, Sajha Manch, to understand these problems at six resettlement sites in the city. By the collecting information through surveys and organizing a series of consultations and workshops, the Manch realized that the dynamic of urban livelihoods was distinctly different from the demand for guaranteed rural employment. Broadly, there were three categories of work in the city: (1) wage employment, which was largely unsafe; (2) self-employment, which was largely illegal; and (3) under-employment, which was both unsafe as well as illegal. These studies revealed three key demands of the workers: (1) the right to legal identity, (2) access to space and resources, and (3) credit on easy terms.
On the basis of these studies a tentative Urban Right to Work legislation has been drafted. This draft was debated with informal labor organizations, national trade unions, and civil society organizations in four seminars which made important suggestions. But the draft requires extensive national debate so that various labor movements can develop a common understating and it could become more comprehensive and effective from the worker’s point of view. It will also require a comprehensive campaign within all sections of society to enact such legislation.
The following are the main points of the draft:-
- To ensure the livelihood of workers in urban areas, the first demand is that the every adult who register for any production work should get 300 days work in a year.
- Everyone must get a living wage instead of minimum wage, as decided in the 15th Indian Labour Conference, 1957 and affirmed by the Supreme Court of India.
- For salaried workers with employers the demand for a Tripartite Board is tenable, but for the self-employed, and the unemployed, the government should be the principal employer.
- This means that if any category of urban worker – salaried, self-employed, or unemployed – is not getting a living wage then the government (Labor Department) has to compensate.
- Instead of making separate Boards for different occupations, this draft proposes that the Labor Department should take full responsibility for all, in order that workers remain united.
- Thus Right to Work is considered to be a fundamental right, and not an employment guarantee scheme that is dependent on government’s discretion and people’s compulsion.
- Workers’ accommodation near work should be an essential requirement so that a large share of workers’ income is not spent on transport.
- Every worker, employed or seeking employment, should be entitled to registration and issuance of identity card by the Labor Department, and this should be interchangeable with the NREGA job card for ease of migrant workers.
- Every job must be healthy and safe, and be available for disabled and vulnerable people, so that it protects both environment and society.
- Every public works should be labor-intensive and 40% expenditure reserved for employment, while restrictions on public appointments in government departments should be removed.
- Participation of workers in policy-making and the right to organize are crucial if transparency and accountability are to be demanded from government.