The Working People’s Charter, a labour rights group, on Friday urged the Centre to create an emergency fund of Rs 50,000 crore to provide social and economic support to workers in the informal sectors amid the escalating coronavirus pandemic. The organisation, which claims to represent trade unions and worker groups of all sectors, made the demand in a statement issued on Friday.
The group sought directions for the Economic Task Force set up by the Centre to create the emergency package in addition to the state relief measures, claiming it would allow states with limited fiscal capacity to avail of central assistance. The task force, to be led by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday. It will plan measures to support the economy amid the crisis.
Citing the example of Spain, which nationalised healthcare as it quickly reached the fourth spot in the list of worst-hit countries by COVID-19, the labour rights union demanded that emergency packages provide direct and indirect support to workers.
Some of the protective and preventive measures the organisation demanded includes a special Public Distribution System package for workers holding below-poverty-line and above-poverty-line cards to help them sustain food requirements for at least three months. It said an “immediate cash transfer” of Rs 10,000 or minimum wages of one month should be given to all such card-holders.
The organisation said that while the need of the hour is to focus on swift health responses and methods of social distancing, the economic risks the COVID-19 crisis poses to working households cannot be overlooked.
The fear of losing jobs or failing to earn an income, as well as their social and economic conditions denies workers in the informal sector “the privilege of social distancing”, the organisation added. “Therefore, comprehensive response to the pandemic is one that has is rooted in both physical distancing and infection control with increased social protection and economic support to workers,” the statement said.
The organisation said a minimum wage of Rs 10,000 should also be provided to workers enrolled in the rural employment guarantee scheme MGNREGA, to agricultural farmers, licensed construction workers and street vendors, as well as all kinds of daily wage labourers and workers employed in the transportation sector.
“We understand that a large number of health workers, scheme workers and honorary workers will be accessing the honorarium, however, their health will remain at high risk,” the organisation said, demanding a Rs 10 lakh-worth ex gratia compensation in case of fatality, along with the reimbursement of entire medical expenditure.
For migrant workers, the organisation said the government should set up evening clinics, sanitisation facilities and temporary health infrastructure in informal settlements, especially in slum dwellings. It urged the Centre to impose a ban in reduction of workforce in small and medium enterprises. Arrangements to freeze any kind of eviction notices for homes and mortgage payments should also be made, the organisation added.
The labour rights group sought state intervention in regulating the prices of essential commodities like petrol cylinders, medicines, food, sanitisers and other medical equipment. “Restrictions should be placed on the number of essential items people can buy at a time,” it added.
It also demanded equal wages for cleaners, along with special transport facilities, to ensure “dignified transport to migrant workers”. For all workers employed in the informal sector, the Centre should suspend utility bills for a period of at least two months for working, it proposed.
Over the last few weeks, several states have virtually shut down in an effort to tackle the crisis. Educational institutions and public spaces such as malls, gyms and swimming pools have been closed till the end of the month. The central government has shut down all the monuments, museums and national parks. The Centre has said no international flights will be allowed to land in India from March 22 for a week. The government has also advised people to avoid non-essential travel and urged employees of private companies to work from home.