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Editorial: Labour camp

A month before the elections kicked off, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Institute of Human Development (IHD) released the India Employment Report 2024, which said that the youth account for almost 83% of the unemployed workforce in the country.

Editorial: Labour camp
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As the Republic welcomes its new government, a few questions linger on the minds of the electorate, concerns that might have found a space in the election manifesto of every party, but are rarely addressed satisfactorily. On top of the list is the bane of unemployment. A month before the elections kicked off, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Institute of Human Development (IHD) released the India Employment Report 2024, which said that the youth account for almost 83% of the unemployed workforce in the country. The study also pointed out that the share of youngsters with secondary or higher education among the total unemployed has almost doubled from 35.2% in 2000 to 65.7% in 2022.

Obviously, this wasn’t a pretty picture to herald the beginning of the biggest electoral exercise in the world. But the figures were there for all to see. The Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) tabled for the Jan-Mar 2024 quarter said that the unemployment rate in the 15-29 age group is 17%, a small consolation from the metric recorded a year ago — 17.3%. But it’s a pain point for a demographic whose labour force participation is just 40%. A major challenge is deterioration in the quality of jobs, which leads to the underemployment of workers.

A large section of the populace is categorised under self-employed, which is about 40% of the workforce. The flipside is that 6.4% of the self-employed worked as helpers in household establishments, while 10.8% were employed in casual labour or daily wage work. The irony of our employment scenario was laid bare by a report which said cities were witnessing a severe labour shortage on account of the mass-migration of guest workers to their hometowns in the run-up to the elections. They were drawn to gig-economy jobs such as taking up tenting, catering, marking attendance for roadshows as well as political meetings for which these workers are paid in excess of what they earn for regular work in the cities. It’s anybody’s guess as to how they re-assimilate into the urban landscape once the poll frenzy is over.

The elections this year were also being held in a milieu where our construction workers were making a beeline for strife-torn countries like Israel. Many were taken in by job scams, and even deployed on the frontlines of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, unwittingly lured by the promise of a decent paycheque, something India couldn’t provide them. Our sense of irony also died when we realised that Indians who were willing to be deployed in European battlefields have been failed by the Agnipath scheme for army recruitment which is being viewed as a super short term service, where one retires at the peak age of 25.

And we haven’t even broached the subject of the workforce composition of women, a category that is a favourite among all parties as a vote bank, come election season. Close to 76% of women graduates in India are unable to secure a job. Eight per cent of them make up the blue-collar workforce, and 52% of those in the age group of 15-29 are neither in education, employment, or training. Although the latest PLFS records a 15% surge in women’s participation over the past five years, the numbers are nothing to fall back on. The dream of a $5 trillion economy aside, let’s put some jobs on the market, and food on the table. For everyone.

Editorial
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