BENGALURU: The lockdown and resulting economic slowdown have hit the unorganised sector the hardest – directly and indirectly. Lakhs of workers employed in the sector quit and left for their hometowns (even on foot) when the lockdown was imposed.
Domestic helps – there is no estimate as to how many are employed – have been affected because of income and employment cuts. Many have been sacked as the new concept of ‘Workcation’ has caught on, with their employers leaving cities to work from farmhouses, resorts and homestays.
Most unorganised sector workers are male labourers with wives working as domestic help. Both have been hit by job losses. Many have taken loans to sustain their children’s education and are struggling to pay monthly instalments to micro-finances, which are charging extra interest due to late payments.
There are at least 3,75,585 domestic workers in the state and 70,791 in Bengaluru alone.
According to the Labour Department, 46,000 smart cards have been issued for registration of unorganised sector labourers.
Geetha Menon, co-founder, Stree Jagruti Samiti, said, “Many members of the union are senior citizens. They haven’t received a meagre pension of Rs 600 since December last year. When they enquired at the taluk office, they were told to submit the documents again. Why can’t Aadhaar be the supporting document? A petition has been sent to the Bengaluru Deputy Commissioner to release the pension soon.”
About three crore people (including a huge chunk of migrant workers) are estimated to be employed in the unorganised sector in the state.
But just 85,000 have been registered under the Karnataka State Unorganised Sectors Welfare Board.
This has made it difficult for the government to keep tabs on the welfare of workers.
Though the state announced a Rs 1,610 crore package to those employed in the sector, like drivers, farmers, domestic help and others, there is no data available on them.
“If we have to transfer money to their accounts, we need data,” State Labour Minister A Shivaram Hebbar had said.
In Davangere, puffed rice units are struggling. The units that produced 20,000-30,000 bags of this light-snack ingredient daily are not even producing 6,000 bags now. The industry employed 5,000 people directly, and over 40,000 indirectly. Ayub, president, Mandakki Bhatti Association, said the lives of those employed and dependent on the industry are in a shambles and need government’s support.
Hubballi-Dharwad has eight industrial clusters where thousands of people were employed. With the lockdown, many units stopped production and laid off more than half of their staff.
Maitreyi Krishnan, advocate and member of the All-India Central Council of Trade Unions, said even before the lockdown, unorganised sector workers were not being paid minimum wages and had no social security.
“Several people have been laid off, leading to large-scale unemployment and some of them are forced to take up jobs with even less security. Their existing debt cycle has worsened as they are forced to borrow money at high interest rates. They have been unable to pay rent and children’s school fees. Children have dropped out of school and are working to supplement family incomes,” Maitreyi said.
“While some auto and cab drivers were given a one-time compensation of Rs 5,000, street vendors were not. During the lockdown, they were not allowed to vend, and now when there is no lockdown, there are no customers. Several garment factories closed down without government’s permission, rendering women workers jobless overnight,” Maitreyi added.
Theertha Kumar, a 38-year-old taxi driver from Mysuru was leading a happy life till Covid turned it all upside down.He said that before the outbreak, he earned Rs 15,000-20,000 per month.
When the lockdown was lifted, he was happy, but it was short-lived, as he did not get enough customers.
“Nowadays, I get just one booking per week for a drop to the airport which earns me Rs 500. How can I run my family with this,” he asked.
As he is a BPL ration cardholder, he is managing to feed his family. But the fear of the owner throwing him out of the house for not paying the rent keeps him worried all the time.
“The last date to pay admission fees for my children has passed. I am left with no option but to stop sending them to that school. I am sure government schools will enrol them,” he said.As he does not own a vehicle, he did not get the one-time compensation of Rs 5,000 announced by the state government.
Shantappa Kori of Kadaganchi village in Aland taluk was running a small hotel near Airport Road in Bengaluru and Rajendra Kumbar of Pattan village in Kalaburagi taluk was a bus driver in Bengaluru. Now, they are struggling to make ends meet.
Shantappa closed his hotel in the last week of March, and reached Kadaganchi in April to take up tailoring work.
Earlier, he earned Rs 30,000 per month, but now for the entire duration, he has pocketed only Rs 15,000. He has also taken a Rs 1 lakh loan.
His sons studied in the second and fourth standards in Bengaluru. But Shantappa does not know how to continue their education.
He has not yet applied for TCs as he is still not sure whether to stay in the village or go back to Bengaluru.
Rajendra used to get a salary of Rs 15,000 per month. He came back to the village to perform the last rites of his father, but could not go back as the lockdown was imposed.
“I have to look after my mother, sister and younger brother. I now sell groundnuts and flowers and hardly earn Rs 250 a day. Lockdown destroyed my life,” he said.
With inputs from Arunkumar Huralimath (Hubballi), G Subhash Chandra (Davanagere), Ranjani Madhavan and Preeja Prasad (Bengaluru), Ramkrishna Badseshi (Kalaburagi) and Karthik K K (Mysuru)