Speech delivered by Comrade.P.Sreeramakrishnan,President of the Democratic Youth Federation of India(DYFI), in a national seminar organized by DYFI Karnataka state committee on September 17th,in Bangalore.
It is of great honour to be part of a seminar being organized by the Karnataka state committee of DYFI on the burning issue of youth regarding unemployment. After 63 years of Independence, our country still has about half of the population below the poverty line. One of the major problems faced by the youth in our country is regarding employment. That is why DYFI has given utmost importance to the issue of unemployment and had added that demand in its Aims and Objectives itself
The DYFI is committed to fight for accomplishing the basic demand of the Indian youth; “Jobs for all, Education for all”. It pledges to organise and conduct struggle against the menace of unemployment and to fight for employment or unemployment allowance till employment and to conduct propaganda and agitation for the inclusion of the ‘Right to work’ as a fundamental right under the Indian Constitution
It is with this regard DYFI central committee organized a two day long Convention on Employment in New Delhi on 10-11 February 2010. The Convention was inaugurated by Com. Prakash Karat. Deliberations in the Convention started with the presentation of an approach paper by the DYFI CEC followed by the presentation of 9 papers on various aspects of the employment problem in India. These were followed by a vibrant discussion by the delegates attending the Convention.
Our rulers tell us that globalization and liberalization has brought unprecedented prosperity in India; that India has become the second fastest growing economy in the world; and that with a little help from the United States we are on our way to become the next global superpower. What is the reality?
There is no doubt that liberalization has brought prosperity. But prosperity for whom? For the dollar billionaires in India, whose numbers have swelled from just 4 in 2001 to 52 in 2009. The combined wealth of the 100 richest Indians accounts for 25 per cent of our GDP today. This no doubt amounts to unprecedented prosperity for the superrich. But what does high GDP growth mean for the masses? Does that create enough decent work opportunities for the unemployed and the millions languishing in the informal economy?
The experience of the past decades presents an alarming situation for employment opportunities. Even the limited economic growth and increased foreign investments have not led to an increase in employment opportunities. The phenomenon of jobless growth which has been afflicting the advanced countries of the West now haunts India. This is happening because more money is invested in technology and mechanization, while productivity of workers is coerced upwards, leading to a situation where increases in output do not indicate increases in jobs.
Thus a 5% increase in agricultural production would have led to a 4.6% increase in employment in agriculture in the 1980s but today it would merely lead to an increment of 0.05%! A similar, though not so steep, decline afflicts the whole economy. Despite increases in agricultural output, employment in agriculture is stagnating. What is happening with the employment in agricultural field? For example take the case of Punjab. The Central government has decided to not to procure more agricultural products in go downs as done in the past. The state government too decided the same way. The farmers can’t keep their products without preservation for a long time. So they will have to sell off the products at a price fixed by any big mill owners that too may be very low when compared to the actual price. Now the agricultural sector which has a high percentage of the workforce is struggling to create sufficient jobs. This has led to a shift in the working population from rural to urban areas; and there is a difficulty in creating sufficient jobs for this new sector of the population. The continuing trend of farmers’ suicides is a sign of extreme despair and hopelessness of the peasantry plagued by repeated crop failures, inability to meet the rising cost of cultivation and rising indebtedness. The Government should take serious efforts to regain the confidence of the agricultural workers by introducing new schemes.
As overall output growth has increased over the past two decades, agricultural growth has decelerated. Moreover faster growth has taken place in the services sector rather than in industries, leading to services accounting for nearly 65% of India’s GDP in 2008-09 from 41% in 1980-81. Industrial growth has been moderate. What is particularly significant in this post-liberalization growth process is that while agricultural growth has decelerated and agriculture’s share in GDP has fallen drastically, the share of workforce employed in agriculture, which was above 68% in early 1980s and around 65% during the early 1990s, has declined at much slower pace than the decline in agriculture’s share in GDP and has continued to remain quite high at over 56% in 2004-05. This has two major implications. Firstly, there is an obvious squeeze on per capita agricultural income on the top of the pervasive disguised unemployment in agriculture. Secondly, growth in the services and industrial sectors are not generating adequate employment to absorb surplus workforce from agriculture. In other words, India has experienced growth but without any substantial expansion of non-agricultural work opportunities, i.e. jobless growth.
Most of the country’s unemployed are in the rural areas. Once quantitative restrictions are removed under the WTO regime and mammoth agri-business multinationals set about taking over the agricultural sector in the country, using modern technology, mechanisation and wholesale changes in the agricultural pattern, the disastrous effects would become compounded. A parallel ‘jobless growth’ appears to pervade the non-agricultural sectors too.
Economic reforms may have given a boost to industrial productivity and brought in foreign investment in capital intensive areas. But the boom has not created jobs. This was not unexpected. According to a report by the Washington−based Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), the combined sales of the world's top 200 MNCs is now greater than the combined GDP of all but the world's nine largest national economies. Yet, the total direct employment generated by these multinationals is a mere 18.8 millions −one−hundredth of one per cent of the global workforce. India's Ninth Five−Year Plan projects generation of 54 million new jobs during the Plan period (1997−2002). But performance has always fallen short of target in the past, and few believe that the current Plan will be able to meet its target. India's labour force is growing at a rate of 2.5 per cent annually, but employment is growing at only 2.3 per cent. Thus, the country is faced with the challenge of not only absorbing new entrants to the job market (estimated at seven million people every year), but also clearing the backlog. Sixty per cent of India's workforce is self−employed, many of whom remain very poor. Nearly 30 per cent are casual workers (i.e. they work only when they are able to get jobs and remain unpaid for the rest of the days). Only about 10 per cent are regular employees, of which two−fifths are employed by the public sector. Most part of the labour force is employed in the "unorganised sector", i.e. sectors which don't provide with the social security and other benefits of employment in the "organised sector." In the rural areas, agricultural workers form the bulk of the unorganised sector. In urban India, contract and sub−contract as well as migratory agricultural labourers make up most of the unorganized labour force. Approach paper presented at the All India convention clearly states:
We know from our field experiences that the situation is far worse than the figures suggest. Lakhs of migrant and informal workers have lost their jobs. While the agrarian distress from the late 1990s had increased migration from rural to urban areas, in the recent period we have seen the reverse trend of urban rural migration, where lakhs of workers returned to their villages from the industrial towns. This happened at a time when drought had engulfed over 300 districts last year affecting agricultural production and aggravating rural distress.
Unorganised sector is made up of jobs in which the Minimum Wage Act is either not, or only marginally, implemented. The absence of unions in the unorganized sector does not provide any opportunity for collective bargaining. Over 70 per cent of the labour force in all sector combined (organized and unorganized) is either illiterate or educated below the primary level.
The state itself started the process of ‘shedding the load of surplus workers’ by adopting various methods like freeze on fresh recruitment, by offering workers voluntary retirement schemes (VRS). During the last decade, the public sector accounted for 60 per cent of reduction in employment in the organised sector. The process of privatization of state enterprises, by the instrument of disinvestment, further led to a decline in employment, dilution of collective bargaining, worsening in working conditions and reduction in wages. This emboldened capital to raise the demand for reduction of workers in the private sector, by using a sophisticated term—the provision of ‘labour flexibility’.
The much-touted BPO-based jobs like call centers and back-office jobs have yielded barely 2 lakh jobs in the country. IT sector has generated lakhs of job in general but there too stagnation is appearing. In the small-scale sector a study has estimated that there will be a 36% decline in employment due to technology intensive investments.
In the IT sector a new class of managers and skilled workers are being recruited by business firms. An increasing number of IT professionals have been finding it difficult to handle emotional stress, according to experts. An ‘occupational hazard,' the stress related to work needs to be addressed without delay, they emphasize. The Government and the corporate sector should look at employment laws as different from the labor laws for the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry. The stress, working against nature and the safety and security factor plays a major role for those working in this arena. Though a job in the IT company, call centers are all about "big money," the future of the employees and their educational opportunities five years down the line is a million dollar question. The employees cease to be social beings and often get isolated from their family and friends. Emotional exhaustion adds to the physical and mental strain of the workers, leading to higher levels of stress and burnout under the electronically monitored work and tightly bureaucratised work regime. We have identified the conditions prevailing among the lower level workers in many small companies in the IT/BPO areas as bordering on anarchy. The conditions are worse than the exploitation seen in villages. The 8-hour work day is not observed. The hire and fire policy is rampant. For many workers, even an appointment order is not available. Often only an identity card is issued. There is a feeling of insecurity and humiliation among lower level workers. So we have to seriously take into consideration setting up of forum/association for these IT/BPO professionals. In a city like Bangalore, which is much touted as the Silicon Valley of India, we should take greater and serious efforts to engage in the problems faced by workers in these sectors. We have to chalk out new strategies to bring these workers into our fold.
It is notoriously difficult to measure unemployment in India because of high levels of disguised or ‘under-employment’. Underemployment occurs when people are not classed as being unemployed, but, they make very little from their job. Open unemployment is not a true indicator of the gravity of the unemployment problem in an economy such as India, characterized as it is by large−scale underemployment and poor employment quality in the unorganized sector,
The downtrodden in Karnataka form about 26.5 % of the population, and without improving their conditions, there can be no meaningful development of Karnataka. About 75 % of the scheduled caste and scheduled tribe from the rural population are still surviving on daily wage labour. Their average income per day has not increased beyond Rs.25. Daily wage labour opportunities have reduced to only 70 days per year.
It is important to underline this important contradiction inherent in the neo-liberal growth regime. This growth regime is only capable of generating very limited formal job opportunities for a handful in the organised sector even as the masses are pushed into the swamp of the informal sector and forced self-employment, to live a life of insecurity and impoverishment. With all its pretensions, inclusiveness for this regime will remain a chimera. However, the slogan of “inclusive growth” is creating expectations within vast sections of the youth that they would somehow get “included” in the growth process and benefit from it. This subjective desire of millions of youth dotting the informal sector in the rural and urban areas to get “included” need to be harnessed through specific and immediate demands vis-à-vis the state, like universal employment guarantee at minimum wages, skill upgradation, universal social security and policy support for the self-employed. The limits of inclusiveness have to be pushed beyond what the ruling classes are willing to offer to the “excluded”, till the hollowness of “inclusive growth” under the current regime is completely exposed.
There is also a need to demand that employment generation must acquire the centre stage in the Planning process. For this it is imperative that the Government collect and regularly publish data on employment/unemployment both for the organised and unorganised sector. It is ironic that while data on GDP growth is released every three months, reliable data on employment/unemployment is made available only once in five years (NSS quinquennial large sample surveys). Countries like the US and other developed economies release official employment/unemployment data on a monthly basis, which allows periodic assessment of the Government’s performance on the job creation front. The Indian practice precludes the possibility of the Government of the day being held accountable for their programmes and policies vis-à-vis employment generation. This needs to change at the earliest.
It needs to be recognized that in the ultimate analysis, the solution to the problem of unemployment and decent work opportunities for the vast masses in India can only be found in an alternative paradigm of growth and development. The neo-liberal growth regime based on asset price bubbles and private corporate investment, capital intensive technologies, and elite consumption demand can never generate adequate employment opportunities for the masses, especially the youth. The solution lies in moving towards a trajectory where the public sector, mass consumption demand and labour intensive techniques drive the growth process. This would imply moving towards much greater state intervention and regulation; i.e. a basic systemic change; for which we have been fighting. There is a need to intensify that struggle and firm up our strategic perspective.