The net of social security promised by labour laws and pro-poor entitlements has a quality of keeping beneficiaries enmeshed for eternity, either due to delays or litigation or plain cheating by employers.
The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) is an instance of this “security” mesh.
The three most common scenarios under the scheme are: A. You never get work. B. You work and don’t get paid for months as your work keeps adding up. C. You are underpaid.
The dysfunctionality of this well-meaning scheme does not seem to be deterring the government, the employee unions or anyone else from advocating it as a form of social security for those who are jobless and poor. The annual Indian Labour Conference last week pinned hope on Nrega to generate jobs and provide social security. It sought doubling the entitlement from 100 days’ work to 200 days’ work a year per household.
This is almost like saying that since there is no social security for the jobless, they can as well do without anything.
NREGA workers’ unions in Belgaum has been on a protest for a week asking for job cards for the people and payment of the unemployment allowance. Last month, the union was protesting in Raichur for dues worth Rs 80 lakh, pending for more than six to nine months.
The state government said last year’s payments were being made against this year due to a technical problem. The unions said more work was done last year before the panchayat elections and this was being adjusted against work days this year, keeping villagers idle.
So, when the labour ministry last week made a case for 200 days work almost as a substitute for unemployment benefits, it amounted to betrayal of their cause.
In fact, it could have asked for, and got, 365 days of employment, without making any difference to the condition of the villagers.