labour secretary Apurva Chandra in an interview with ET. Chandra said there was net addition of over 45 lakh Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) subscribers in the fiscal year so far, an indicator of new employment generation.
What is the government’s assessment of the employment situation as private agencies say the situation still remains grim?
If you look at the EPFO payroll data since February, it showed there was a loss of employment in April and May. Since then, EPFO has seen net additions in subscribers. In February, which was pre-Covid, the net additions was 10.21 lakh, while in March that was partially affected towards the end of the month, there was a net addition of 5.72 lakh. In April there was a dip of 1.49 lakh and in May there was a decline of 97,000. Since then there has been addition to EPFO. It was over 6.6 lakh in July, 8.8 lakh in August and 14.9 lakh in September. If you look at it in the context of the overall year since February, you will see there is a substantial net addition of over 45 lakh.
What could be the reason for such a jump in payroll addition in September? Is there a possibility of these numbers getting revised down?
Delayed filing could be one of the reasons for such a jump in September and there is always a possibility of a small revision for the month of September, but overall there is net gain of jobs. However, with the unorganised sector, there is an issue of data paucity.
A big gap was felt in terms of lack of data on migrant workers when the pandemic broke out. Has that been addressed?
We have sanctioned the National Portal for Unorganised Worker. The project is (worth) Rs 700 crore and we have transferred Rs 45 crore to the National Informatics Centre (NIC). The objective is to onboard the details of all the unorganised workers—building and construction workers, platform and gig workers.
This would then become a comprehensive portal which will be seeded with Aadhaar to ensure there is no duplication. We are targeting 15-20 crore workers. Once this database is complete, all ministries can use this for structuring their schemes. The portal is expected to go live by May and start registering from May onwards. (It has been sanctioned in Nov but will be up and running from May, 2021)
What was the rationale behind raising the spread of daily working hours overtime to 12, one of the highest anywhere in the world? How do you ensure compliance?
It is comparable with almost all the Asian countries. The weekly work hours remain capped at 48. While the earlier weekly work standards were applicable only to establishments or factories, now this extends to all establishments including the ones that open for five days a week. They will not start opening for six days. This provision will give them flexibility of restructuring the work days in a week. There are adequate safeguards. There is a limit of 125 hours of overtime in a quarter. So it is not that you will work for 12 hours every day for six days a week continuously. Finally, it will be between the worker and the employers. The idea is that we should not have a rigid structure.
What is the government’s vision for a universal social security envisaged in the Social Security Code?
Universal social security will cover almost everybody, including the unorganised and the platform workers. The National Portal for Unorganised Workers will provide the clear database. Thereafter, issues like how will it be financed and other things will be tackled.
We already have a readymade source of funding for the building and construction workers or the platform workers. In the first case there is 1% cess, which is sufficient while for gig workers we have a plan in place. The larger problem is the unorganised workers who are out of the system.
What kind of model are we looking at to bring gig workers under Employees State Insurance Corporation? Will the government contribute to their social security or will it be self-contributory?
Government will not contribute. We have had discussions with the platforms and the assessment is that even if they contribute 1% of their turnover or 5% of the amount paid to the gig workers, it will be sufficient to take care of one million gig workers in the first year. ESIC works on a contribution of 4% of the wages. Since working out the actual wages for gig workers will be difficult, we are thinking of fixing a minimum contribution — maybe Rs 1,000 or so annually, wherein a worker contributes Rs 100 a month. Balance will be contributed by the platforms which will be sufficient to cover all the gig workers.
We want to target their contributions from April 1. Scheme details are being worked out. Once enrolled, gig workers will be eligible for primary, secondary and tertiary care and all other benefits under ESIC, including maternity and other cash benefits.
There has been discussion on bringing self-employed people like doctors, chartered accounts under the social security net. How can this be achieved?
The Code on Social Security, draft rules for which have been notified, would open the doors for this voluntary participation under EPFO and ESIC. The possibility is there, we can allow it. However, schemes would need to be formulated as provided in the Code.