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We Need A Public-funded Scheme For Generating Employment In Urban Areas: Author Kiran Moghe

"The private sector can contribute in terms of providing a market for these publicly funded goods and services that are generated in the process, and through back-end support for technical and skill training".

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Policy Matters is a global initiative focused on economic recovery from COVID-19 and centering on the economy, people, and vulnerable communities. We send a weekly dispatch from New Delhi, Washington DC, and Pretoria. For more information on the series kindly contact our executive editor at large for public policy, Neeta Misra [email protected] who is based in Washington DC.  

Tell us a little about yourself.  

I work as a trade unionist in Pune city, one of India’s large industrial cities, organising informal sector workers, particularly women with a view to increasing their visibility and recognition as workers making significant contributions to the economy. I have particularly been associated with a trade union of domestic workers, and more recently with Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) workers, who function as link workers in health services for low-income households.  

How has the pandemic impacted the informal sector and which groups have been most severely affected?  
Most of India’s workforce continues to be concentrated in the informal sector, defined in terms of lack of formal work contracts, minimum wages, and social protection. What is significant is that over 90% of women workers are concentrated in this segment, and are particularly vulnerable to external shocks as was evidenced during the Covid -19 pandemic. The impact of the pandemic has been to force women into unemployment. For example, women domestic workers in urban metropolitan areas are seen to have lost between 50-70% of their jobs, due to lockdown restrictions, and perhaps also because the demand for paid domestic services has declined as employers themselves suffer job or income losses. Women in low-end contractual jobs have lost out as manufacturing activity has declined; other sectors affected have been construction, export-oriented industries such as garments, services such as restaurants. However, we do need more micro studies to understand the processes that are affecting women workers in all these sectors, especially because they are largely invisibilized as members of the workforce for social reasons. We also need to measure the intensification of work done by women in the care sector, such as nurses, paramedical staff, Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), and ASHA workers, who have worked longer hours but not been compensated in wage terms.  

What short- and long-term policies need to be implemented to offset the impact of the pandemic.  
Studies indicate very large unemployment amongst educated young women. The agrarian crisis is leading to migrations for seeking work into urban areas that have already historically shown very poor workforce participation rates for women. We need a public-funded scheme for generating employment in urban areas, something on the lines of the MNREGA, but taking into account the types of public works that can be taken up even in large metropolitan cities.  This can be a collective model, building upon several savings and thrift groups (SHGs) that already exist. Skilling for participation in nontraditional areas including IT and ITES, delivery services, care and nutrition services for the urban poor, creation and maintenance of urban farm collectives are some areas that we need to carefully consider, thinking out of the box. Local self-government organizations such as Municipal bodies need to be involved in these initiatives.    

How can the private sector/private enterprises get involved?  

The private sector can contribute in terms of providing a market for these publicly funded goods and services that are generated in the process, and through back-end support for technical and skill training.  

Thank you!  

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