Towards Decent Work – Workers take action

Nearly 92 per cent of the Indian labour force is employed in the informal economy. It is crucial that workers learn about their rights so as to protect themselves from exploitation. However, for the future of work in India -- formalization is the step in right direction.

Feature | 02 August 2016

Asha, one of the many atypical workers in an industrial zone of Pune, works on a short contract-basis. She has been working for an engineering company for nearly two years like this. Many workers like Asha are hired on short-term contracts that offers no job security and doesn’t even provide sufficient access to social protection and any other benefits that comes with a permanent contract.

Asha used to be afraid of making mistakes and losing her job in the process. She used to shy away from talking about her salary. However, things have changed now. She works with confidence and she is aware of her rights and responsibilities as a worker. She is also knowledgeable about the existing laws that protect her from exploitation.

Asha is among more than 1,400 workers including 150 women workers, who have been trained on workers’ rights and responsibilities. This training was organized by Ranzunjar, a Pune-Based NGO, which received technical and financial assistance from the ILO-Japan Project on ‘Way out of Informality: Facilitating Formalization of the Informal Economy in South Asia’.

Ranzunjar was started in 2010 by Ashok, a migrant worker himself, who saw that many migrant workers faced adversities with regard to their livelihoods and were completely unaware about their rights. He started organizing the workers and giving them advice whenever they faced difficulties. However as the membership of his NGO increased, demand for his advisory services too grew manifold. He felt the need to have more members who were well-versed with labour laws and could provide advice to other members. Bu, he wasn’t sure how to go about this.

ILO-Japan Project* approached Ashok in 2014. They wanted to work with his NGO to promote decent work for the informal economy workers, with a special focus on those engaged in the manufacturing sector linked to the automobile industry. In Pune and in other parts of the country, the automobile sector sees huge influx of informal workers, enterprises. There is an acute need for awareness generation towards achieving decent work.

A Training of Trainers’ on Workers’ Rights was organized with support from the Project. Thirty members (including ten women) were trained as trainers. This cadre of newly-trained trainers were able to further develop the knowledge of more than 1,400 workers.

The Ranzunjar’s membership has increased to 700 which includes 80 women. Many success stories now emerge from Ranzunjar. A worker was able to access entitlements for Provident Fund which his employer was trying to withhold. It is not always easy to negotiate with the management but all the members are happy to learn about their rights and responsibilities and labour laws. They now know how to negotiate with the management and exercise their rights guaranteed under relevant laws including the The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970.

With the Project’s support, Ranzunjar also launched a website to disseminate information to its members and other workers. Ashok settles many disputes. He is a hands-on man. Off late, he has been involved in getting many workers their Aadhar - unique identification card. Migrant workers often tend to face challenges in getting an Adhar card in their hometown where it is normally issued.

Without Aadhar card these workers are further disadvantaged. They are not able to apply for jobs because companies require it for the job application. Workers are also unable to open a bank account or order their cooking gas cylinder. Ashok supported the members to obtain the card by negotiating with the local authority to accept the proof of membership as a valid document for the issuance of the card.

Ashok continues to support workers in the industrial zones of Pune by improving the knowledge of the workers through training and web-based information dissemination.

*Way Out of Informality, funded by the Japanese Government through the ILO-Japan Bilateral Programme is implemented in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. This project is unique in its application of the ILO’s framework for promoting Decent Work in the informal economy. The priority sectors identified under the project included small scale manufacturing linked to automobile sector in India (Pune), construction, and Hotels & Tourism sectors in Nepal and construction sector in Bangladesh. The project aims to facilitate formalization of informal businesses and employment relationships, and discourage informalization of formal economy firms and jobs