The National Advisory Council (NAC) has pulled up the central government for failing to formulate a social security package for India's 430-million informal sector workers even though the Unorganised Workers' Social Security Act (UWSSA) was passed three years ago.
"The centre has not formulated a minimum social security package for all workers in the unorganised sector since three years of the passage of the act in 2008," said a recent NAC communication to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
NAC said except for the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (National Health Insurance Scheme), which covered close to 90 million people, little had been done to extend other social security benefits to the working poor in the country.
The passage of the Unorganised Workers' Social Security Act in 2008 was a result of the collective effort of unions, cooperatives and NGOs. They were backed by the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector and the NAC, headed by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
"They (unorganised sector workers) contribute close to 60 percent of the country's gross domestic product but remain amongst the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society," said the NAC in its letter to the government.
It said the workers were engaged in multiple economic activities for survival, had no fixed employer-employee relationship and worked long hours for very low wages.
They also lacked sufficient access to income, food and basic social security such as healthcare, childcare, insurance and pension, it said.
Women, who constituted a large proportion of the informal workforce, were particularly vulnerable since they shouldered both productive and reproductive responsibilities, it said.
"They (women) are often engaged in the most hazardous of work and earn substantially lower wages than men," said NAC.
Noting that the allocation of limited financial resources was the real bottleneck in the implementation of the act, NAC said there was little convergence between the various schemes being administered through the finance ministry (for pension), labour ministry (for health insurance) and women and child development ministry (for maternity benefits).
(Amit Agnihotri can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)