By Dhurjati Mukherjee
Generating and providing employment is a big challenge for a country like India. The nature and type of work has been consistently changing, more so with the pandemic as also the shrinking in the types of jobs available to ensure economies of scale. Interestingly, for the technically equipped personnel, self-employment and consultancy are concepts gaining ground to ensure work.
According to a study, there has been 70-75 per cent spike in freelance positions in April and HR solutions firm PeopleStrong has estimated that 25-30 per cent of the workforce in sectors such as Internet business companies, IT, ITES, start-ups, hospitality, quick-service restaurants, retail and logistics will eventually be converted to freelance roles. The demand for freelancers is growing as firms get used to remote working or work from home, to cut down health risks as well as costs during the pandemic.
The change over by organisations and workers alike follows the lockdown. Since then, the companies have been looking at ways to reduce costs, one of which is by converting full-time positions into freelance. At the same time, the pandemic has made companies conscious that work can be done remotely with productivity not necessarily going down. As such, firms are now looking at more work-from-home opportunities.
This can be a much-needed opportunity for women workforce, mainly those constrained by time, location and space, and specially in Tier2 cities. However, it will curb work opportunities of males and create household tension. By and large, women are preferred in work places as they are able to do different tasks and are found to be hardworking, efficient and sincere. The ability of women folk to adjust in a different work environment has found them to be more acceptable in the new work environment.
Mainstream roles such as software development and SAP consultants are for the asking as freelance opportunities as often a fall-back option for those hit by employment shocks – an intermediate state between employment, unemployment and possible re-employment.
There is a marked deviation not just in the nature and type of job but steady overcrowding in a particular office has too been done away with. A large number of people appear to have adopted to work from home schedule and rarely need to travel to office for discussion with the higher authorities. The online work does enable savings for firms as well as the employee.
However, there is need for a word of caution. The new work trend is leading to a situation whereby contractual appointment will be on the rise and fixed salary appointments will steadily come down. Moreover, online and the digital mechanisation playing a crucial role in various operations, requirement for personnel will come down steadily. Besides, artificial intelligence playing a bigger role cannot be ruled out in various sectors, thereby further thwarting job opportunities.
The problem of employment will obviously be more pronounced in the country, with very high population amongst the working group. According to estimates of the International Labour organisation (ILO) and the Asian Development Bank, as many as 41 lakh youths lost their jobs because of the pandemic, majority being in the construction and farm sectors. Recall among the haunting images of the lockdown are those of hundreds of thousands of out-of-work migrant workers trudging back home and that the government’s much-hyped ‘stimulus package’ has been an eyewash, proving to be miniscule in economic recovery.
Understandably, it’s impossible to create job opportunities for the entire large workforce, not because of the unprecedented crisis triggered by the pandemic, but due to the nature of employment changing over the years. Automation has become the order of the day across the globe for better efficiency and greater productivity.
An emerging problem in the workplace is the new inequality of skills and the consequent inequalities of income and wealth rendered. Anyone who is not clever enough to continuously change becomes useless, unproductive and unemployable. The category could include the poor and the deprived—new entrants in the army of redundancy. The challenge would be providing work to keep this class under control, technology-enabled round-the-clock surveillance, checking arbitrary violence and misinformation about the precarious state of affairs.
Meanwhile, in a recent survey, which covered 34 districts in Eastern India, the average income plummeted 85 per cent by mid-August among returned migrant workers, while 35 per cent of them had no work at all. It discovered that two-thirds now want to return to their outstation workplaces, the continuing hardship forcing a change of heart after millions vowed never to step out again following the miseries of the initial days of lockdown. The survey covered 2917 returned migrants in 34 districts in West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Jharkhand. Some 67.64% wanted to return to their workplaces.
Though Rs 40,000 additional allocation has been made under MGNREGA, it provided employment to a mere 3.53 per cent of returned migrants. Also half were paid less than the minimum and over 35% had no work. Thus, State support has been missing. It has further complicated the situation in the country, where majority of the workforce is in the informal sector. Worse, the government claimed that they do not have the numbers or any list of migrant workers who worked in different States.
Undoubtedly, to revitalise the economy, effective labour reforms are needed. With barely 20 per cent of labour covered under major laws, it is necessary for achieving convergence between organised and unorganised sectors and formal and informal workers. States must take up labour reforms, together with positive sentiment for unorganised workers as a package in collaboration with industry.
The overall problem indicates a substantial job loss, not just in these past six months but shall spill over to the next year. The responsibility of the State is to seriously mull over ways to overcome the crisis. Obviously, more funds, at least other Rs 40,000 crore, are required to be allocated for employment scheme and an extension of the number of days from 100 to 120 days, among others.
Governments and the private sector need to shift focus on the one hand to labour-intensive strategies and on the other technology-driven sectors, as work and employment needs a clear overhaul. At the same time, the rural sector needs sharps focus and must be the key in planning the new transformation, where there is enormous potential for work opportunities as also generating self-employment. The planners need to understand and accept the ongoing change for only then shall they be able to evolve an effective strategy.— INFA