From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : E-Shram Portal
Mains level : National database for workers: Prospects and challenges
The E-Shram portal has come into existence more than a decade after the passage of the Unorganized Workers’ Social Security Act in 2008.
- On August 26, 2021, the Ministry of Labour and Employment (MOLE) launched the E-Shram, the web portal for creating a National Database of Unorganized Workers (NDUW), which will be seeded with Aadhaar.
- It seeks to register an estimated 398-400 million unorganized workers and to issue an E-Shram card.
Better late than never move
- It has come about even after repeated nudging by the Supreme Court of India.
- It is the result of state apathy.
- Had the Central and the State governments begun these legally mandated processes on time, much of the distress of lakhs of vulnerable workers would have been avoided.
- In fact, the political class owe an ‘apology’ to informal workers.
Issues with E-Shram
(A) Time constraints
- Long process: Given the gigantic nature of registering each worker, it will be a long-drawn process.
- No gestation period: The Government has not mentioned a gestation period to assess its strategy and efficiency.
- No hasty process: Employers are or required their workers to register even.While the Government can appeal to them, any penal measure will hurt the ease of doing business.
(B) Pandemic hides
- Considering the estimated 380 million workers as the universe of registration — debatable as the novel coronavirus pandemic has pushed lakhs of workers into informality.
(C) Data security
- Privacy: One of the vital concerns of e-portals is data security, including its potential abuse especially when it is a mega-sized database.
- No national framework yet: There are also media reports pointing out the absence of a national architecture relating to data security.
- Local server issues: It has been reported that in some States such as Maharashtra, the server was down for a few days.
(D) Structural issue
- Aadhaar seeding: Many workers will not have an Aadhaar-seeded mobile or even a smartphone. Aadhaar-seeding is a controversial issue with political overtones, especially in the North-eastern regions.
- Eligibility: There are several issues concerning the eligibility of persons to register as well as the definitional issues.
- Exclusion: By excluding workers covered by EPF and ESI, lakhs of contract and fixed-term contract workers will be excluded from the universe of UW. Hazardous establishments employing even a single worker will have to be covered under the ESI, which means these workers also will be excluded.
- No benefits for the aged: The NDUW excludes millions of workers aged over 59 from its ambit, which constitutes age discrimination.
(D) Complex identities of workers
- Migration: Many are circular migrant workers and they quickly, even unpredictably, move from one trade to another.
- Mixed work: Many others perform formal and informal work as some during non-office hours may belong to the gig economy, for example as an Uber taxi or a Swiggy employee. They straddle formal and informal sectors.
- Gig workers: Even though MOLE has included gig workers in this process, it is legally unclear whether the gig/platform worker can be classified first as a worker at all.
(E) Other impediments
- Dependence on States: The central government will have to depend on the State governments for this project to be successful.
- Lack of coordination: In many States, the social dialogue with the stakeholders especially is rather weak or non-existent. The success of the project depends on the involvement of a variety of stakeholders apart from trade unions.
- Corruption: There is also the concern of corruption as middle-service agencies such as Internet providers might charge exorbitant charges to register and print the E-Shram cards.
Benefits: No immediate carrot
- Workers stand to gain by registration in the medium to long run.
- But the instant benefit of accident insurance upto ₹0.2 million to registered workers is surely not an attractive carrot.
- The main point of attraction is the benefits they stand to gain during normal and crisis-ridden periods such as the novel coronavirus pandemic now which the Government needs to disseminate properly.
- E-Shram is a vital system to provide hitherto invisible workers much-needed visibility.
- It will provide the Labour Market Citizenship Document to them.
- The govt should go one step further for triple linkage for efficient and leakage-less delivery of all kinds of benefits and voices to workers/citizens: One-Nation-One-Ration Card (ONOR), E-Shram Card (especially bank account seeded) and the Election Commission Card.
- Last but not least, registrations cannot be a source of exclusion of a person from receiving social assistance and benefits.