CONTRACT LABOUR WORSE HIT BY COVID – By Arvind Pinto

BANNED: At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic gated colonies banned the entry of all home deliveries, ranging from Amazon delieveries to Dominos pizzas and even newspaper delivery boys, out of the fear that residents will get affected.

Among the worse affected by the Covid-19 pandemic were the daily wage earners ranging from blue collared workers in factories to delivery boys.

By Arvind Pinto

JUST recently I had occasion to ask for a drive for the day. Like any Mumbaikar I began haggling over his daily rate, when Rahul, the car river said, “Saheb, I have lost me permanent job, I have a wife and two small children to feed, and no one has employed me for more than 15 days.” This stark reality of urban unemployment hit me like a ton of bricks. Covid- 19 is responsible. Covid-19 has while marginally reducing income for the upper and middle class, has badly hit several sectors of our urban lower and poor classes.
Let’s look at some of these realities which do not get written about. First for some statistics: As per the National Statistical Organisation the unemployment rate in urban India for the 3rd quarter of 2020-21 is 10.3%. Thus, for every hundred persons (working population) 10 persons are unemployed. Today many of the states in India are reporting double digit unemployment rates. In October 2021, more than five million lost their jobs, as per the Centre for Monitoring of the Indian Economy Pvt Ltd (CMIE).
What are the sectors where people lost their jobs? The most vulnerable were those in the informal sectors, that are unregulated and dependent upon supply and demand. House maids for example, were out of job since many housing societies refused to allow these maids to come into their precincts. Then there were the other servicing folk of dhobis, ironing outlets, laundary places, media people engaged in distribution of newspapers and some more who were no longer in demand.

SERVICING SECTORS
THE automobile sector has several service people engaged in car washing, minor repairs, tire air-filling at petrol stations and others who had been forced to leave the city and never to return. I remember driving around to several petrol pumps to have my car tires inflated and at each of the petrol pumps I heard the same story – the boys have not come back from their village!
With hotels shut, skilled labour of cooks, serving boys and waiters, summarily laid off, many of them had no choice but to return to their villages and they still have not returned to their former work places.
Geeta Bhawan is an iconic restaurant in Chembur. It started operating in the ‘60s and has played host to the entire film family of Raj Kapoor, who loved to drive down in the evenings from nearby R.K Studios, to savor a masala dosa or sip a cup of the famed classic south Indian decoction coffee – that only Manohar Shetty’s café kitchen staff could make. Today the establishment is run by his son Rohit Shetty who has restarted the popular café reluctantly.
Talking with Rohit he told me that labour is hard to find courtesy covid times. Before March 2020 their Udipi fare café never ran short of staff. But came covid-19 times and waiters, servers, cooks, went home to their villages and never came back. Rohit says that in the initial stages of the lockdown, he kept paying his staff regularly. But when with days stretched into months he could ill-afford to keep them on the staff payroll, when there was no income. Giving his staff a handsome severance package, he closed shop. Today many of his boys have found work at their towns and villages and are unwilling to come back.

FREE RATIONS !
IN a recent interview the Minister of Labour stated that unemployment in our cities is around 20%. He stated that government is continuing the scheme of free rations as also assisting in providing the unemployed with jobs. But the reality is otherwise. The loss of employment coupled with a never-ending rise in inflation has hit the lower economic urban population.
Unemployment has also hit the upper and educated classes. Many engineers and doctors who have graduated are unable to find jobs they are qualified to do. While college placements in business schools and engineering campuses still happen, it is a fact rarely publicised that not all aspirants are chosen. Further the pay packages offered are below expectations. But these beginners can’t afford to be choosy, for the supply of graduates outnumber vacancies available!
Economists are hopefully that economic growth is gradually picking up. This may be true, looking at the rise in the stock market. But the rise of the BSE index does not reflect the realistic underlying economic malaise. While economic growth is rising slowing the twin phantoms of unemployment and inflation will continue to haunt the Indian economy as we come to the end of the year 2021 with several anxieties, despair and hope which not come to naught anew.

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