Unemployment dole, introduced in Kerala in 1982, the first State to do so, could soon be a thing of past if Labour Minister Shibu Baby John has his way.

“We need to rethink on the unemployment dole as it does not serve any purpose now,” Mr. John told The Hindu. The government spends Rs.50 crore a year on the unemployment assistance scheme and there are roughly 3.5 lakh people getting the benefit, at the rate of Rs.120 a month.

Mr. John says a lot of undeserving people are getting the dole. Moreover, the scheme has become absolutely useless. He suggests that the funds earmarked for the unemployment dole be utilised for giving skill training to the youth. He, however, says that a final decision will be taken after discussing it with various youth organisations.

Currently, unemployed people who have an education of SSLC and above and who have registered with the employment exchange are eligible for the dole if their family income does not exceed Rs.12,000 a year. They get an allowance during Onam, Vishu, and Christmas.

There have long been demands from management experts and employers that the dole be scrapped. They contend that in a labour-shortage State, where about a million migrant workers are employed, paying unemployment dole is incongruous with reality. They also point out that paying Rs.120 a month to jobless youths at a time when the average daily wage for casual workers is around Rs.500 is, in fact, an insult to them.

When the unemployment dole was introduced in 1982, it was hailed as a revolutionary social security step. But critics had said it would be a huge drain on the exchequer and that it would foster sloth and dependence. The dole rate has not been raised since 2000 when it was increased to Rs.120 a month.

Mr. John says the government is planning to streamline the welfare fund boards in the State. There are far too many welfare boards and these can be clubbed together into five or six boards. There is a widely held view that welfare fund boards only serve to accommodate failed politicians. He agrees that the welfare boards are not very effective right now. After the streamlining of the boards, each board will have district-level offices. From April next, the aid to the members of the welfare funds will be paid only through banks.

At a workshop on unorganised labourers organised by the Kerala Labour Movement here recently, Mr. John pointed out that there was a lot of bogus membership in the welfare funds. For instance, the welfare board for construction workers had about 20 lakh members which apparently was many times more than the original strength of construction workers in the State. He said migrant workers were a reality in Kerala and that social security benefits should be extended to them. It would be made mandatory for employers to get their migrant workers registered with the government.

Mr. John also pointed out that of the 750 hospitals surveyed recently, only 25 had paid minimum wages to their nursing staff.

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