Tag: Employment Policy

Measures for revival

Even as the economy starts limping back to normal, increased poverty and unemployment would require effective policy intervention

Mercifully, the disastrous Covid second wave, largely fueled by the delta variant, has begun to recede. It is time now to take stock of the impact that Covid has had on the lives and livelihood of the people. The numbers of cases, as well as the fatalities, were much higher during the second wave in comparison to the first. Almost all my friends have told me that someone near and dear to them has passed away due to Covid. The fear of Covid has entered every home. There was a period from mid-April to the first week of May when people were clamouring for oxygen, ICU beds, medicines and treatment. Even though I have retired from the civil service I recollect getting at least a dozen calls each day requesting help for getting someone admitted to a hospital. That was indeed a very traumatic period. One state government followed the other in imposing various degrees of lockdown to break the infection chain. Things are much better now with normalcy approaching, the lockdowns lifted in most states and economic activity limping back to normal. Of course, there is always the apprehension that the virus is not likely to disappear soon and may even come back for a third wave. The government is certainly not taking any chances this time and is likely to be better prepared. The people also would be more careful now.

The future would be determined by the pace, extent and efficacy of the vaccination campaign. The goal is to achieve the vaccination target by end of December as, only if the majority is vaccinated, will we be able to escape the scourge of the pandemic. Various policy options are being considered, debated and implemented. Normal life would return after the battle is won but the scars of the Covid will take years to disappear. The economy has been badly damaged. The year 2020-21 showed a negative GDP rate of -7.3 per cent and now the growth rate projected for 2021-22 has been scaled down even by the RBI to 9.5 per cent. This has impacted the level of unemployment in the economy. The finance ministry has come out clearly putting growth as its main objective in the current budget. However, the anticipated growth momentum has encountered a roadblock in the second wave. Economists and governments are banking on private consumption demand to pick up significantly after the lifting of lockdowns. We have to wait and see with what pace the economy will bounce back. The finance ministry has clearly stated that everything will depend on the pace of the vaccination process and talked about completing maximum vaccination by September end to push forward the growth of the economy. The government is planning to front-load its capital expenditure and also the private sector is planning major capex infusion. All this would certainly help but it remains to be seen to what extent this would raise the spirits of the economy and in how much time.

The CMIE report on unemployment in the Indian economy shows that as of June 17, 2021, the unemployment rate has been as high as 11.2 per cent with urban unemployment being at a staggering 13.9 per cent and rural unemployment at 10 per cent. The unemployment issue which was already troubling the youth before the onset of the pandemic has now assumed dangerous proportions with its consequential impact on the level of poverty. The poor and the marginalised, especially those in the informal economy, have been the worst hit. The State of Working India Report, 2021 prepared by Azim Premji University before the second wave had indicated issues of serious concern. The report proposes policy imperatives for the government to respond to the impact of Covid on the poor. Firstly, it is clear that the Central and state governments will have to focus on healthcare and education. The pandemic exposed the poor quality of health infrastructure in the rural areas which requires massive investment. The sector will assume greater importance in the coming decade and will be a major job provider.

Additionally, the government has to focus on increased poverty resulting from Covid. The Azim Premji report shows that despite the V-Shaped recovery after the first wave about fifteen million workers remained out of work and the per capita income remained below the pre-Covid level. The huge employment and income losses led to the labour share of GDP falling by over five percentage points to 27 per cent in the second quarter of 2021. Most of the decline in income was due to a reduction in earnings. It also came out that the poorer states suffered more in terms of job losses. The women and the young workers were disproportionately affected and many could not return to work even by the end of 2020. The report says that 33 per cent of workers in the 15-24 age group could not recover their employment by the end of the year.

The most significant finding of the above study was that monthly earnings for all workers fell and that of the poorer households declined more than the others. More than 230 million people were pushed into poverty with a 15 per cent increase in rural poverty and 20 per cent in urban poverty. This is indeed an alarming picture and negates all the poverty eradication efforts made since 1991. The challenge now is to provide gainful employment to these displaced people so that they can come out of the poverty trap. It becomes all the more significant as India is aiming to achieve the dream of a five-trillion-dollar economy by 2025. Agriculture has performed in a stable manner and has been the saving grace yet we have to see how this sector can generate more employment. Increased allocation for MGNREGA and more jobs to people on MGNREGA-related projects would certainly help. In addition, the agriculture sector has to be reformed and modernised with the aim to increase the income of the farmer. The Government of India has promised to double the income of the farmers by 2022. However, we are far away from this goal at the moment. A concentrated effort is required to bring out major reforms in the sector to increase the income of the farmer. The recently proposed structural reforms have run into heavy weather but are in the right direction and, with some modifications to protect the interest of the farmers, they can make a difference. Dairy and other animal husbandry projects can contribute to increasing the income of the farmer. Massive investment in storage and cold chain is required. To shift workers from farm to non-farm activities and discourage migration, there is an immediate need for setting up rural growth centers — each of those being a hub of rural industrialisation, particularly for the agro-processing sector.

A lot more needs to be done to support the worst-hit MSME sector. Merely giving loans will not suffice; a fiscal package of direct support is required because this sector has immense potential for employment. In particular, the services sectors like hospitality and tourism have been badly hit and need a special relief package for revival. The time for such a fiscal stimulus is now and should be done without any further delay. A major scheme for employment in the urban areas has to be implemented to cater to the issue of urban unemployment. Measures like increasing the old-age and widow pension and direct cash transfer to the poor can also bring about faster recovery. The impact of Covid on lives cannot be done away with but we can certainly take urgent steps to see that the livelihood of people is not threatened. The impact of Covid on poverty and unemployment needs to be seriously addressed.

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All-encompassing plan

India needs to eliminate the mismatch between its growth and employment by formulating data-backed comprehensive policy best-suited to its economic situation and demographic dividend

Recovering from the Covid shock the Indian economy is showing great resilience and we are now witnessing a V-Shaped recovery. The GDP growth for the fourth quarter is likely to be positive and for the entire year 2020-21, it should be in the region of -7 per cent. The following year promises a growth rate of anywhere ranging from 10-12 per cent at current prices but even then the economy would just be back to the pre-covid level by March’22. The biggest issue that has been thrown up has been that of unemployment. Large scale unemployment was a result of the covid crisis. Even before that, unemployment was becoming an important issue that needed a policy framework to tackle. India is reaping the demographic dividend with the median age being 28.4 years and also about 8-10 million new entrants are entering the labour force every year. The magnitude of the problem is clear. The CMIE (Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy) comes out with data for unemployment and their data shows that the unemployment rate went as high as 23.5 per cent during the first two months of lockdown. The position is much better today with the February data shows that the overall unemployment rate in India is 6.9 per cent (7.74 per cent in urban and 6.55 per cent in rural). One of the main objectives of the twelfth five-year plan (2012-17) was the generation of decent and productive employment in the non-agriculture sector. The employment policy in India has so far laid emphasis on self-employment whereas a much more comprehensive analysis of the problem and a policy prescription is required.

It is high time India follows the footsteps of several other countries which have a comprehensive national employment policy. The policy emphasis in various countries is different according to their economic situation. East and South-East Asian countries like Singapore, Indonesia or Philippines have policies geared towards global integration as a core element of growth and employment. African countries have focused on employment friendly anti-poverty strategies while some of the Arab countries have moved from active labour market policies which were limited to young college graduates to more comprehensive policies addressing other employment challenges faced by the region. Many countries in Eastern and Central Europe have also formulated comprehensive national employment policies which include steps like improving employment services, promoting skills training and other ways to develop human capital. Latin American countries like Brazil and Argentina have also focused on the informal economy. India has to understand the needs of its own population and the economy and evolve a national economic policy that will answer the challenges the countries faces.

If we analyze the employment scenario in India it throws up certain interesting highlights. The first is that even as GDP growth rates have risen the relationship between growth and employment generation has become weaker over time. In the 1970s and 1980s when GDP growth was around 3-4 per cent, employment growth was around 2 per cent per annum. However, after the 1991 reforms and particularly in the 2000s the GDP growth has accelerated to 7 per cent but employment growth has slowed down to 1 per cent per annum. Thus it is clear that growth by itself will not lead to higher employment generation but specific policy interventions would be required. The philosophy behind the current budget of the Union Government is that growth has to be focused on and all other things will follow. However, looking at the trend over the last 40 years, this may not be true and there is an urgent need for a National Employment Policy. Another point to note is that most of the manufacturing sector is becoming increasingly capital intensive meaning that more manufacturing may not necessarily lead to more employment. Further, it is disturbing to note that though labour productivity in organized manufacturing has increased by six times over the past three decades the wages have increased by only 1.5 times. The result is that the labour share of income in organized manufacturing has fallen down to about 10 per cent. It may also be further pointed out that the labour participation rate of women has declined in recent years and is currently at a low level of 27 per cent.

We have in India policies both at the central and state level which relate to industries, agriculture, skill development, tourism and education and each of them is connected to the issue of unemployment. Industrial policies talked about generating more investment and there are incentives for this. However, it is important to link the incentives in an industrial policy more to the generation of employment than merely the figure of money invested. Similarly, policies relating to an increase in productivity of agriculture aim to free labour from the agriculture sector to move to the non-agriculture sector. Major policy intervention in rural areas has been the MGNREGA policy (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Assurance) which seeks to employ all job seekers. This scheme was a great asset in the time of Covid. Policies related to skill development and tourism create demand for such persons. Above all the education policy is important for determining the type of human capital that is produced. The education policy should come out with young boys and girls who are employable and suitably equipped with domain knowledge as well as soft skills.

Even though all the above-mentioned policies correlate with the generation of employment, there is no doubt that we need a national economic policy that would have a vision in consonance with the overall growth objectives of the nation and be responsive to all the challenges and opportunities. We must be clear that a national employment policy is much more than merely a job creation programme because it has to take into account the whole range of social and economic issues and consider every aspect of the economy. It has to bring together all these schemes, policies, programmes and institutions which influence the demand and supply of labour and the functioning of the labour markets. Decent work has to be provided in which international labour standards, social protection and workers fundamental rights are given as much weightage as is given to job creation. The national employment policy will have to tackle the very important issue of huge informal sector employment, jobless growth, the threat of automation and the changing nature of new jobs along with the gender parity issue.

We must evolve a national employment policy that will bring about a synergy between various sectors of the economy and focus on education and skill development. It should also endeavour to enhance the labour participation rate of women. The crucial problem of disguised unemployment in our agriculture sector needs urgent attention to make productive use of each person as also the issue of underemployment which is persistent in the Indian economy and is highlighted by the fact that even PhD students apply for a class four level job in government.

The most important thing for any sustained policy intervention for employment requires data about the number and category of people looking for jobs and matching them with the demand for jobs in various sectors of the economy. The policy will have to lay adequate emphasis on developing an effective labour market information system that will identify skill shortages, training needs and available employment opportunities. We need to evolve employment portals rather than have the existing moribund employment exchanges at the national and state level.

If India has to become truly Atma Nirbhar and if we have to make the 21st century an Indian one then it is imperative that we focus on the crucial problem of unemployment and evolve a national employment strategy that attends to all aspects of supply and demand of labour across all sectors.

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