Condition of Indian Labouring Masses

Some Gleanings from the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS):

July 2017 – June 2018
Part Two – The Urban Labouring People

CN Subramaniam

In the previous part we had looked at the broad demographic profile and noted that about 71% of the Indian population continues to live and work in the countryside and only 29% reside in urban areas. We had studied different aspects of the laboring people in the rural areas including, livelihood profile, education levels, rate of participation in labour, occupation, working hours, earnings etc. In this part we will examine the condition of the urban population with a special focus on the laboring people.

Who are the labouring people?

Households: The report estimates a total population of about 1074 million people living in about 257 million households giving an average of over 4 persons per household. About 29% of the Indian population lives in urban areas and constitute about 81 million households and 315 million persons.

The urban female sex ratio is 965 compared to the rural ratio of 952. Interestingly the urban sex ratio has improved significantly over the previous surveys (it was 909 in 2009-10 and 922 in 2011-12). Paradoxically the sex ratio for the rural areas decreased from 957 to 952 between 2011-12 to 2017-18. Does this indicate a shifting of women on a large scale from the rural areas to the urban areas? It has been observed that traditionally men move to the towns in search of employment while the womenfolk stay back in the villages taking care of small plots of land and very young and very old persons of the family. The significant jump in female sex ratio of urban areas may indicate that with increasing rural distress, more families as a whole are migrating to the towns. The critical link between the rural small peasant household and the urban male worker may thus be weakening as small peasants and agricultural workers shift to urban areas with their families. This is a significant shift and needs to be looked into more carefully by demographers.

The pattern of urbanisation in India since the colonial times has been highly uneven with a few coastal states having a higher degree of urbanisation than the highly populous interior states. This is borne out by the PLFS data too. While heavily populated states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have a relatively low degree of urbanisation (9% and 21% respectively), states like Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra have a much higher degree of urbanisation despite being heavily populated (48% and 44% respectively).

Table 2. Percentage of Urban households to total households in selected states
States % of Urban Households
Bihar 9
Assam 11
Odisha 16
Chhattisgarh 20
Jharkhand 20
Uttar Pradesh 21
Rajasthan 24
Madhya Pradesh 25
West Bengal 31
Andhra Pradesh 33
Haryana 38
Punjab 39
Telangana 39
Karnataka 42
Gujarat 43
Kerala 44
Maharashtra 44
Tamil Nadu 48
India 31

PLFS Table (3): Estimated number of households, for each State/ UT

States like, Telangana, Punjab and Haryana are emerging as urban hubs among the interior states. This unevenness of urbanisation has great significance for the working class movement. While demographically and electorally, the less urbanised states dominate the demographic the country, the highly urbanised states on the other hand are economically significant and contain a substantial segment of urban working class. While considering the state of urban labouring population, we need to constantly keep in mind this unevenness in urbanisation.

Table 3. Distribution of Urban households by livelihood in %

2011-12 2018-19
Self Employed 35 32
Salaried, Regular wage earning 42
Casual Labour 12
Others 11
PLFS Statement 3: Percentage distribution of households by household type

Nearly a third of urban households depend upon different types of ‘self-employment’ while a substantial proportion, about 42% households depend have regular salaried or wage income. A small segment depends upon casual labour. What is significant is that nearly 14% of the households are categorized as others – they could be pensioners, beggars, illegal peddlers, prostitutes or simply unemployed. What is more, the proportion of households in this category seems to be increasing over time (mainly at the cost of self-employed).

There is significant regional variation in this distribution. Industrially developed states like Maharashtra, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, etc have a much larger proportion of households dependent upon regular salaried or wage work – nearly half of the households. The proportion is even higher in the north eastern states, where we can assume that the substantial portion of the urban households actually derive their income from government employment, even though the total number of households would be far fewer in number.

A simple comparison with the rural profile (see Table 1 in the first part of the study) shows that urban environment offers far greater possibilities of regular wage employment compared to the rural areas where only 13% households get such employment and substantially larger segment (25%) depends upon casual labour.

Educational Levels of the Urban Population

We shall now turn from households to ‘individuals’ and look at the age/education profile etc. Literacy rate among persons of age 7 years and above is nearly 92% for men and 82% for women in the urban areas. A closer look at education levels among the youth who constitute and will constitute the core of the working population in the coming years will be useful.

This in a sense confirms the effectiveness of the drive to spread education after the passing of the Right to Education Act, and what is noteworthy is the substantial narrowing of the gender gap in educational attainments. It is heartening to know that 95% to 97% of all urban children in the 5-14 year group are in school and more than 75% children are continuing studies in the 15 to 19 year group too. The gender gap in this appears to have been bridged completely. (See Table 7 below). At the same time the persistence of illiteracy among 4 to 6% of the urban population and the fact that another 10% is barely literate with minimal primary education are causes for concern. Given the fact that nearly 34% of the urban population has not completed even ten years of schooling severely restricts their employment opportunities and access to civic resources.

While the above statement pertains to the youth and prospective laboring classes, the following table tells us about the present urban adult population.

Table 5. % Distribution of Urban Adult Population (15+ years) by educational levels 2017-18

Illiterate Upto Class V Upto Class VIII Class IX and above
Male 9
(Same as above)

This shows a much higher presence of illiteracy and poor education and much wider gender gap. More than one third (36%) of adult women are illiterate or barely literate. Only 57% men and 46% women are in a position to leverage their education for employment. Its implication for quality of life or access to legal or constitutional remedies need no further elucidation.

Nutrition and Health Status

The health and working capacity and quality of life depends upon nutrition available to the people. The NSS Report No.560: Nutritional Intake in India, 2011-12 shows steady decline in nutrition intake eversince globalization commenced in early 1990s “Comparison of estimates for India and the major States from NSS surveys between 1983 and 201112 shows calorie intake declining in both sectors after 1999-2000, the decline being sharper in the urban sector..” In 2011-12 the proportion of urban households with calorie intake below 2160 Kcal/consumer unit/ day was 59% for the bottom 5% of population, falling to 47% for the next 5% of population. We can thus see that large proportion of urban working people are grossly under nourished. Not only are they under nourished but they also get low quality nourishment as substantial part of the calorie intake comes from cereals and the protein intake has been declining. The bottom 5% of the urban population (by MPCE level) get 66% of their nourishment from cereals, compared to 29% for the richest 5% of the population. While protein intake has been declining, the intake of fat in the non-cereal categories have been steadily increasing. This in effect implies that the population is barely able to replace the energy spent in work with little support for growth or regeneration. Thus substantially increases the risk of morbidity in the working population, further crippling their capacity to work.

The NSS Report No. 574 on Health In India (2014) reports alarming levels of morbitity in urban population. About 101 persons out of 1000 reported sickness during the previous fortnight and this includes 57 with chronic ailments. The same for women is alarmingly high – 56 reporting short duration ailments and as many as 79 reporting chronic ailments per thousand of the population. Thus nearly 12% of the population is sick at any point. A substantial majority of them (7%) suffer chronic ailments.

As is to be expected the poorest face the maximum ill health. The same report also indicates that the poorest strata are facing maximum health hazard: 16% of those in the lowest income group (among the five income groups) in urban areas reported illness during the previous fortnight. Even more than in the rural areas, chronic illness increases substantially in the 60+ age group to about 30% of the population. Given the fact that most of the urban labouring population does not have any health insurance cover, they end up having to work in their old age to pay for their treatment.

An important feature of both the nutrition and health reports is that there has been a steady decline in nutrition over the last few decades and an increase in morbidity. While part of the rise in morbidity may be due to increased reporting, the fact that it is accompanied by lowering of the quality and quantity of nutrition may indicate the decline in health status may be real and not just apparent.

Labour Force Participation Rate

According to Statement 8 of the 2017-18 NSSO PLF survey, 57% of urban male population and 16% of the urban female population are counted in the ‘labour force’. While the rate for men has remained stable over more than a decade, that for women has declined from nearly 18% in 2004-5 to 16% in the current survey. While this decline is not as steep as the decline in the rural areas, it should be read in conjunction with the increased sex ratio in the urban areas. More women are shifting to towns but are not getting absorbed in the labour force and instead are ending up as housewives engaged primarily in reproductive labour.

Table 6. Labour force participation rates (%) in usual status

15-29 years 15 + years All
Years Male Female Male Female Male Female
2017-18 58.5
2004-05 68.3

PLFS Statement 8: Labour force participation rates (in per cent) in usual status.

Under normal circumstances we do not expect children under 15 years and elders above 65 to be ‘economically active’ and working. Hence in international calculations for labour force participation only the age group 15-64 is taken into account. However, the survey data only tells us about labour participation in the age group 15 years and above, which is 75% for males and 20% for females in the urban areas. Labour force participation of youth under 29 years has declined from 2004-05 and this can be attributed largely to increased school attendance mentioned above.

Table 7: Percentage distribution of persons by usual status per age-group
    5 to 9 10 to 14 15+ 65+ All
Self Employed Male 0.0 0.1 24.2 17.2 18.5
Female 0.0 0.0 4.3 2.3 3.4
Helper in Self employed Male 0.0 0.2 3.0 0.9 2.3
Female 0.0 0.1 2.0 0.8 1.6
Regular Salary / wage work Male 0.0 0.3 31.7 5.1 24.2
Female 0.0 0.1 9.5 1.5 7.4
Casual Labour Male 0.0 0.3 10.4 3.3 8.0
Female 0.0 0.0 2.4 1.0 1.9
Non-wage work      
Domestic Work Male 0.8 0.7 0.8 2.6 0.7
Female 1.1 3.3 59.4 44.2 46.7
Begging & Prostitution Male 3.9 1.3 1.7 10.3 1.7
Female 4.8 0.4 1.5 12.5 1.6
        15 to 19 20 to 24  
Students Male 95 95 75 34 27.2
Female 94 96 76.4 28.5 24.8
PLFS Table 15, Percentage distribution of persons by usual status per age-group

While it is customary to consider education as a non productive labour, in the realm of reproduction, we need to remember that most of these children are in the process of acquiring skills and work discipline required by the capitalist world and as such are part of capitalist production process. The loss of childhood and free volition which such ‘pre-labour’ entails needs to be theorized and looked as actually unpaid labour in a disguised form.

While the decreased labour participation due to increased school attendance maybe welcome, there are many aspects of urban employment demography that are disturbing. The distressingly high percentage of children under 9 years in begging etc is a serious cause for concern. As many as 4% boys and 5% girls are thus engaged. Equally distressing is the very high percentage of persons above 65 years engaged in begging etc – 10% for men and 13% for women. The non existence of social security cover for the very young and old age can be seen as the direct cause of this situation. In fact, across the board persons above the age of 65 are forced to work, as more than 26% old men continue to work in different sectors. As many as 18% of elderly men are in the self-employed sector vending fruits and or food stuffs.

Another significant fact that emerges from this table is that while most of the urban women are out of the paid labour force they form a substantial part of the unpaid labour force. While only 20% urban women are engaged in paid work, as many as 60% are engaged in domestic work. Their domestic responsibilities do not cease even in old age as can be seen in the fact that 44% old women are engaged in domestic work.

A comparison of situation over the last decade or so indicates that while the proportion of men employed in different sectors has remained relatively stable, the proportion of women employed in self employed segment and in the casual labour segment has been declining consistently ever since 1980s but the proportion of women employed in regular salaried or wage jobs has increased significantly and as many as 52% of employed women are in this segment. Of course the actual number of such women would be very low, nevertheless it indicates that women are less engaged in petty capital based self employment or even in casual labour. They work in situations where the master-worker relations are clearer and regularized. This has great importance for organizing women workers in the urban areas.

Having said that the overall profile we get of the urban employment scenario is that it is a ‘men’s world’ where in the three major employment segments of self employed, regular salaried/wage work and casual work, men predominate to the order of 85%, 77% and 82% respectively. Women appear to have a better presence in the regular income work compared to the other segments. Secondly it would appear that nearly 47% of the urban ‘gainfully’ employed persons enjoy a degree of income security (which should not be confounded with social security) being in the category of regular salary or wage earning jobs. These are also the ones who work for some regular ‘employer’, be it a government agency or a private capitalist. Next come the workers with petty capital, the ‘self employed’ who constitute about 38% of the ‘gainfully’ employed urban persons. Casual workers who have no job security or some capital to fall back upon, are about 15% of those ‘gainfully’ employed. (based on Table 15of PLFS ).

A third important feature of the urban employment scenario is that a substantial proportion of it is unemployed even though it is in search of work. Of the 15+ age group about 3.7% are unemployed though willing to work. This proportion rises to an alarming level of 11.6% for youth aged 20-24 years and 8.7% in the case of the youth aged 25-29 years. (For urban males aged 20-24 years this figure soars to 15.3%.)

Table 8. Urban Labour force Particiaption and Working Population Estimates


Persons 000
Persons 000 %
Persons 000
Labour Force

In many ways the four segments of urban employment are complementary to each other as a person in regular employment may find himself out of job and if he has some savings (or ‘cultural capital’ in the form of education) take to ‘self employment’ or otherwise end up doing casual labour. In large cases those in self employment may be just waiting for a ‘regular’ job to come their way. Thus there is a regular osmosis between these categories, which the data does not reveal. It is nevertheless noteworthy that at any given point of time those with regular source of income and employment are less than half of all who are employed.

The looming presence of unemployment over the urban world is clearly brought out in the ‘work participation rate’. The report uses two categories to calculate working population: labour force participation (which includes potential workers who are currently unemployed) and Work participation (which includes only those currently employed).

Of the total urban male population, 53% are actually employed while another four percent are looking for employment. Likewise while 14% women actually are employed another two percent are looking for employment. In all 34% of the urban population is actually employed implying that nearly two additional persons are dependent upon every person employed. As in the rural areas the percentage of those employed in the bottom UMPCE (usual monthly per capita expenditure) decile classes are distinctly lower than for higher decile classes. Thus while the bottom decile class has only 28% persons employed the top decile class has 34% in employment. In other words the poorer people have to take care of more dependents than the rich. (PLFS Statement 12, Work Participation Rates by decile classes) This also shows that female work participation improves significantly as the income levels rise – 20% women are employed in the top decile class while only 11% women are employed in the bottom decile class.

It should be noted that this is a statistical figure. In actual fact many urban workers may have families dependent upon them living in the villages, but these do not appear in this data as they are not living in urban areas.

The nearest to a class profile of the rural population that we get from this report relates to ‘broad occupational divisions’ (Statement 17), which gives us about nine broad divisions. While these should not be seen as class categories, they can be safely treated as income groups. If one may broadly see these as also income groups then the managerial strata would come out as the richest crust of urban society, the middle income group would be constituted by professionals, technicians, clerks and service workers. The low income group would include the ‘skilled agriculturalists’, skilled crafts-persons (weavers, tailors, electricians, plumbers etc), machine operators (skilled workers) and ‘elementary workers’ probably unskilled workers. Thus the urban working population would have about 14% high income group, 37% middle income group and 49% low income groups.

Table 9. Percentage distribution of urban workers by broad occupation division
1. Managerial 15
2. Professionals 8
3. Technicians 7
4. Clerks 4
5. Service workers 17
6. Skilled Agriculturalists 4
7. Skilled Crafts-persons 19
8. Machine Operators 11
9. Elementary workers 15
Total 100

PLFS Statement 17: Percentage distribution of workers by broad occupation division & Table 25

Division 1: Legislators, senior officials and managers, 2: Professionals, 3: Technicians and associate professionals, 4: Clerks, 5: Service workers and shop & market sales workers, 6: Skilled agricultural and fishery workers, 7: Craft and related trades workers, 8: Plant and machine operators and assemblers, 9: Elementary occupations (unskilled manual workers)

This data roughly maps on to the proportion of self employed (the middle income group) and regular salaried and casual labourers (the low income groups) given in tables 3 and 7 above. Of course the ‘regular salaried/wage workers’ is an omnibus category which will include the top strata of managerial and bureaucratic classes as well as those working in return for meagre monthly wages.

What is significant in this table is that the workers who work for wages in factories or outside of as unskilled manual workers constitute a significant 27% of the working population of towns. Among women too, we find 24% of working women in this category.

The above statements should be read with some caution as these nine categories of employment really do not allow us to presume who exactly are wage workers, self employed and managerial strata. The ‘skilled craft persons’ for example can include women tailors who work in garment sweat shops and not really self employed persons.

The occupational structure of urab labouring force shows a great degree of diversification and a decreasing reliance on manufacturing and agriculture over the last four decades or so. The significant decline of population, both male and female dependent upon agriculture points to intensification of urbanisation and shift away from agriculture as an important urban activity.

Table 10. Change in Occupational Profile of Urban Labour Force
1977-8 to 2017-18 (in %)

1977-78 2017-18

Male Female Male Female
Agriculture 11
Manufacture 28
Construction 4
Trade, Hotel 22
Transport etc 10
Others 25

(Statement 16, of PLFS Report)

Significantly the share of manufacture too has decline over the last four decades. At the same time the construction sector has been absorbing a very large segment of urban working population especially of male workers. Its share over the forty years has increased from 4% to 12% for male workers. Even if one were to include construction in the category of industry, it is the so called service sector which appears to provide maximum employment. This sector employs about 61% of male and well as female workers. In terms of total employment manufacturing and construction together employ about 33% workers, while Trade and Transport etc employ about 27%. All other services together employ 34% of all workers. In other words service sector employs about 61% workers in all. (it should be noted that even within the service sector, 35% of all women workers are employed in education, health and household work.)

This indicates the tremendous expansion of the so called service or tertiary sector the cost of the primary production sectors.

Conditions of Employment

As noted earlier nearly 47% of urban persons who are engaged in income earning activities can look forward to ‘regular salary or wage’ and these are overwhelmingly men. The PLF survey tells us about the precarity of even this miniscule minority.

A degree of security is provided to the worker if he or she is formally engaged through a written contract which then may enable them to invoke prevalent labour laws in their defence if there is any violation of the contract. The fact of the matter is that bulk of the urban labouring population (in non-peasant-agricultural sector) which ‘enjoys’ regular income from salaries or wages, amounting to more than 72% of male workers are engaged without any written contract. The proportion is the same for women workers in this category. To put it differently, just about 13% of all urban workers work under conditions of formal employment. The rest are either ‘self employed’ or workers without any formal protection.

The absence of any formal arrangement naturally precludes other essential features of decent employment like weekly holidays and fixed working time etc. paid leave including leave during sickness, maternity, etc. Most of ‘regular salary/wage’ workers were not entitled to any social security benefits (pension, gratuity, provident fund, health or maternity benefits). According to the survey results nearly 48% of urban workers in this category were not eligible for any social security benefits. If we were to include all urban workers (self employed and casual workers) then less than 25% of urban workers are entitled to any social security benefit. No wonder we see such a high degree of begging among the 65+ year old urban population.

The survey shows that 53% of urban regular wage earners are not entitled to regular paid leave. It also appears that this condition has been intensifying over the years as the percentage of workers without paid leave appears to be steadily increasing over the last decade. The denial of paid leave is just the tip of the iceberg. It only indicates long hours of work without any respite.

The data on hours of work shows that almost all categories of workers worked for more than six days a week and put between 40 to 60 hours every week. The self employed men who constitute 28% of the urban workforce, on an average put in 58-59 hours of work a week and worked almost on all days of the week (more than eight hours every day of the week). The hours of work for women in the self employed sector is 41 hours a week, an average of six hours every day of the week. In addition they would be attending to domestic work like cooking, cleaning , attending to children and the old and ill persons.

Table 11. Average number of hours actually
worked in a week by urban workers

Male Female
Self Employed 58.5
Regular Wage/salary 60.0

Statement 26: Average number of hours actually worked
in a week by workers in different statuses in employment

It would appear that the low capital intensive and low technology work that such self employed persons do at a pace set by themselves, allows them to work longer on all days of the week. From the unemployment statistics compiled by the NSSO, it appears that this category of workers feel that they can work for another seven or nine hours a week if gainfully employed.

The regular salaried/wage workers of the urban areas appear to be putting in the longest hours of work, the men working for more than 60 hours a week (eight and a half hours in case of 7 day week and 10 hours a day in case of 6 day week); women in this category also work for over 52.6 hours a week (again averaging over seven and a half hours every day of the week). This is the price they pay for their ‘regular’ salaries or wages. In a highly insecure labour market, relative job security comes with a stiff bill.

In contrast, casual workers in the urban areas typically get less work: Male casual workers get work for around 5 to 6 days a week and appear to get on an average only 46 hours of work a week. Women casual workers too, get work for five days a week and an average of 40.6 hours work a week. However, this unskilled work can be highly exhausting so much so that despite putting in lesser hours of work, they feel disinclined to work more as this category of workers shows least willingness to extend hours of work. Unlike in the rural areas, urban working hours do not appear to vary between seasons (however, casual labour does show marginal variation of about an hour or so)

Statement 27 of the PLFS gives further details which can be fairly alarming. As many as 34% of urban male workers work for 60 to 84 hours a week!

A simple look at these figures, tells us that as in the rural areas, in the urban areas too, the 150 year old demand of ‘Eight Hours Day’ remains a distant dream for the Indian labouring masses. Condemned as they are to work for over eight hours every day of the week, there is little time left for either educational, political, cultural or recreational purposes.

Let us now turn to the issue of remuneration and earnings of these workers.

Earnings of Urban labouring people

Let us first take the category of Regular wage or salary earners (Statement 22 of PLFS report) as their earnings can be clearly expressed in terms of monthly earnings. As mentioned above they constitute 47% of the urban workers. We learn that even though the earnings are supposed to be regular, they are not constant over the year and vary from season to season. The range for male workers is between Rs 17314 (in monsoon months) to Rs. 18,353/ (in Spring). Averaging the seasonal variation, we get a figure of monthly salary/wage of Rs. 18,000 for men and Rs. 14,600 for women. Assuming from the above discussion on working hours, that women work for 208 hours a month and men work for 240 hours a month, we get the following hourly averages for their respective incomes: women Rs 70 per hour and men Rs 75 per hour. Women thus get about 93% of the men’s wages per hour.

Casual labourers who depend upon daily random employment constitute about 15% of urban working population. Their average per diem wage averages around Rs 324/ (ranges from Rs. 313/ to 335/) for men which gives an hourly average (assuming an eight hour day) of Rs 40/. For women it is a daily average of Rs. 192/ giving a paltry hourly rate of Rs.11/. We also need to remember that they don’t get regular work on all days. As such the average monthly earnings would be both varying and much less. The wide gulf that separates the wage rates of the regularly employed and the casual workers is noteworthy. While in the case of men it is little less than double in the case of women those regularly employed get seven times the hourly wages of a casual worker. This huge difference can be attributed to the fact that the bulk of regular employed women are in the service sector like education, health, etc, which are highly paid compared to casual work.

We shall now turn to the most complex segment of all, the ‘self employed’ workers. These constitute 38% of the urban workforce, with men dominating the profile. To recall the information from Table 2, the own account workers constitute about 38% of rural workforce and helpers in the same category constitute about 17%. Unfortunately, the report does not give us any break up of the earnings of the two categories, assuming that the ‘helpers’ are largely unpaid. Despite some seasonal fluctuations, the average monthly earnings of male self employed workers average around Rs. 16,067/ and that of women is less than half of this at about Rs. 7000/ (Statement 25, PLFS). These earnings are termed ‘gross’ in that they include both ‘profit and wages’. The profit ought to accrue to the capital investment in the form of land, equipment and animals. Also these are income of the entire family and not of individuals as in the case of regular salaried or casual wage workers. The average monthly income projection of about Rs. 16000/ for men and Rs. 7000/ for women, is a lot better than the earnings of the casual workers but lower than that of regular wage/salary earners. If one were to go by the hours of work put in, it works out for male self employed workers to be about Rs. 68/ per hour (compared to Rs.75/ for regular salary/wage earners and Rs. 40/ for the casual workers). Considering that this is a combination of return on capital investment and labour put in by an entire family unit, we can appreciate the extent of distress faced by the self employed in the urban areas.

By way of a conclusion

We had noted in the very beginning a highly uneven pattern of urbanization with states like Bihar showing very low degree of urbanization and states like Tamil Nadu having substantial urbanization. Among the more populous states, it appears that only about six or seven states have urbanization to the extent of 40-50% of their populations living in urban areas. Likewise seven populous states have less than 25% of their populations in urban areas. Such uneven urbanization has important economic as well as political implications for working class development and organsiation.

We had also noted that sex ratio has improved in the urban areas but at the same time female participation in labour in urban areas has declined. This indicates that women in towns are engaged mainly in reproductive activities sustaining the male labour force engaged in income earning work. This is not to deny a significant female workforce especially in the service sector (health, education, administration and shopkeeping), but it points out to the fact that the predominant segment of women in towns are engaged in upaid domestic labour. This has serious implications for organization of workers and women workers especially. Domestic issues which hitherto had not occupied the concerns of trade union and working class movement needs to be addressed if women workers are to be organized and their latent militancy which comes to the fore time and again harnessed for social change.

About 33% of all urban persons are ‘gainfully’ employed (the rest being either unemployed, students, housekeepers or persons engaged in ‘disreputable’ professions like prostitution and begging or boot legging). These amount to about ten crore persons. Of this about 47% have some regular work with regular periodic income. While this category includes all kinds of persons with salaried income and thus will include highest civil servants and also managerial strata of corporate houses, the vast majority of this category will be industrial workers, school teachers, clerks, shop workers etc. with some technical or liberal education. Another 38% are self employed. Significantly, unlike in the rural sector, most of the self employed are own account workers and not helpers.. In the rural sector nearly 30% of the self employed were unpaid helpers while in the urban sector this proportion is less than 15%. These urban informal sector workers play a crucial and yet unrecognized and unsupported role in the urban economy. Petty shop keepers, petty producers, peddlers, without any institutional support not only act as links between large producers and consumers but also play an important role in the production chain as ‘outsourced’ producers. This sector was the most hit by the ill conceived acts of the Modi government like ‘demonetisation’ and the new tax regime of ‘GST’. Even though this is largely a petty-bourgeois strata, this is a category of workers who put in long hours of work and get rather poor returns. Casual workers without any certainty of employment or wages constitute 15% of the urban population, whose main problem is the lack of regular work or social security support. The self employed and the casual workers together constitute the most vulnerable segment of the urban employed persons.

One of the burning issues we noted above was the killingly long hours of work urban laboring people have to put in to eke out subsistence wages. We saw that virtually all categories of workers except probably the white collared work for all seven days and work for more than eight hours every day. A large number of people actually work for more than ten hours on all the seven days of the week. For over a hundred and fifty years the working class has been demanding eight hours day and six day week as essential for a civilized life in our times. It is an irony of capitalism that despite the tremendous leaps in productivity since then, workers still have to put in inhuman hours of labour in the service of capital.

A corollary of long hours of work is low wage levels, the average wage level being between Rs 40 to Rs 75 per hour. (At present exchange rates this amounts to a maximum of one US$ per hour.) We had noted earlier that each working person has to support two non earning persons financially (who are either children or spouses who help to reproduce labour). The minimal wages would be insufficient even for one person and thus forces on them longer and longer hours of work.

Another burning issue we need to note is the low social security cover available for urban working people. Less than a fourth of all urban workers are entitled to any social security benefit. This abysmal coverage combined with growing privatization of basic services like health and education and not to say of basic needs like food and housing, pushes the laboring poor into greater degree of self exploitation through greater hours of work and are forced to continue to work even in old age and sickness or resort to begging etc just to keep themselves alive.

These are some of the issues that need immediate attention of labour activists, trade unionists and communists working in the country.

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