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Nothing permanent about it
When the coronavirus-lockdown ends, many of us will get back to work. But there will be as many people who may not even have jobs to return to. First to be hit were the migrant workers.
The 21-day lockdown sounded a death knell to their livelihood as they subsist on daily wages from construction work, cleaning and loading jobs and the like. Now the insecurity has spread to a vast number of workers who are hired without written contracts, including those employed in non-registered micro businesses and registered small companies.
The last five years saw the opening up of the economy and the advent of a huge number of e-commerce firms that transformed the job market significantly. There was a sudden spurt in opportunities for youngsters with minimum qualifications. One could earn anywhere between Rs 15,000-25,000 a month and this lured many into giving up a higher education for a well-paying job. In fact, the periodic labour force survey released in May 2019 noted that ‘with the rise in education levels in the economy and rise in household income levels, the aspiration levels of educated youth have also risen.’ It observed that youngsters would no longer be willing to join the labour force or be part of a work force that required low skills and low remuneration.
The State of Working India report by the Centre for Sustainable Employment at the Azim Premji University revealed that the share of contract work had grown since the early 2000s, and studies showed that in many categories, trainee, and apprentice workers performed the work of permanent workers at a fraction of their wages. The report, however, recommended that companies must still invest in permanent workers, ensuring employee loyalty leading to a better long-term dividend in terms of productivity.
With closure of malls, hotels and the temporary halt in e-commerce delivery sites, many employers have been forced to let go of temporary staff. Going forth, it is hoped that companies take the recommendation seriously and invest in permanent staff, because as life limps back to normalcy post the lockdown, it is likely that we will not see many familiar faces who were part of the support service network we took for granted.