Union Minister for Labour and Employment Mallikarjun Kharge said the major challenge facing India today was that of the unorganised sector.

He was speaking at the second World Social Security Summit organised by the International Social Security Association in Capetown, South Africa, on Friday. Mr. Kharge is heading a six-member high-level delegation from India, which held discussions with several Labour Ministers of the nearly 120 countries participating in the meet.

Mr. Kharge said India was committed to social security programmes and had introduced several forward-looking legislation such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, housing programmes for those below the poverty line, old age pension, the RSBY (Rashtriya Swasthaya Bima Yojna), the Right to Education, the mid-day meal scheme, etc. He emphasised that the social security schemes in India had the full support of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Ministry of Finance.

Crucial to growth

Mr. Kharge said: “Our major challenge remains the unorganised sector where around 430 million workers are employed in a total workforce of around 450 million. By their sheer numbers, this segment is crucial to India's continuing growth in the post crisis recovering period. While it is a fact that India's economy was less impacted upon by the financial crisis, we have not remained insulated to its consequences. We have started a slew of programmes to address the social security issues in the unorganised sector.”

The employees in the unorganised sector, despite comprising a majority of the working class in the country, mostly remain in low-paid insecure jobs, have little access to institutionalised social security and are the most vulnerable to the negative impact of economic slowdowns in terms of job loss and wage cuts. The government has since introduced health insurance, general insurance and a pension scheme for those serving in the unorganised sector.

Inclusive growth

“The process of economic liberalisation undertaken in India since 1991 has resulted in rapid economic growth but we are still addressing the challenge of making this growth story an inclusive one. Only when that is achieved, we will allow ourselves the luxury of calling it a complete success story,” Mr. Kharge said.

During the interaction with the audience, which included delegations from 120 countries, he highlighted India's commitment to the social security programmes and the positive impact of the RSBY and the MGNREGA schemes. “India's social security programmes enjoy a strong political will and the total support of the government machinery.”

Budgetary support

He noted that all governments must support social security measures by providing necessary budgetary support. In the light of suggestions by some panellists for contributory mechanisms to make the schemes viable and self-sustaining, he said the government's primary support was necessary to ensure that the social security benefits reached the poorest of the poor.

On the sidelines of the world meet, Mr. Kharge met his counterparts from South Africa, Zambia, Yemen, Swaziland, Samoa and Guernsey and exchanged views on issues pertaining to social security policies and their medium and long-term impact on the financial health of the countries.

Keywords: Labour Ministry

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