Context: The dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic reach far beyond our contemporary critical health response system. While all sections of the society will be impacted by the pandemic the vulnerable sections are most prone to suffer drastically.
Understanding vulnerability of working population worldwide:
- ILO estimates:
- As many as 25 million people could become unemployed because of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
- Corresponding loss of workers’ income could be as much as $3.4 trillion.
- Impact due to the outbreak:
- For containing the spread of outbreak, enterprises of all sizes have currently stopped operations, cut working hours and laid off staff.
- Impact of travel restrictions: Many enterprises are on the brink of collapse as shops and restaurants close, flights and hotel bookings are cancelled, and businesses shift to remote working.
- Workers,first to lose their jobs: Often during such scenarios first to lose their jobs are those whose employment was already precarious for example sales clerks, waiters, kitchen staff, baggage handlers and cleaners.
- Weaker safety nets for vulnerable sections and their implications:
- Non availability of Paid sick leave: This paid sick leave is not available to many carers and delivery workers. Because of which they are mostly put under pressure to continue working even if they are ill.
- Most vulnerable working section:
- Sections such as piece-rate workers, day labourers and informal traders may be pressured by the need to put food on the table.
- Migrant labourers and the workers associated with seasonal unemployment.
- Understanding deeper implications: If needs of the vulnerable sections are not taken into account ultimately all sections of the country will be impacted as it will not only increase the spread of the virus but, in the longer-term, dramatically amplify cycles of poverty and inequality.
Safeguarding the vulnerables:
- Need a proactive role of the government:
- The government needs to act decisively while understanding the deeper implications. It should ensure business continuity, prevent lay-offs and protect vulnerable workers.
- Preventing an economic slowdown: Unprecedented, expansionary fiscal and monetary policies are the need of the hour to prevent the current headlong downturn from becoming a prolonged recession.
- It is essential for governments to work with employers’ organisations and trade unions to come up with practical solutions to keep people safe and to protect jobs.
- Measures needed:
- For formal jobs: Income support, wage subsidies and temporary lay-off grants
- For businesses: Tax credits for the self-employed, and financial support.
- Need of specific measures related to vulnerable sections:
- Carefully drafted measures are needed for the most vulnerable workers as they may not qualify for unemployment or health insurance and are even harder to reach.
- Prioritizing the protection of health-care workers:
- Most of them are women who risk their own health for the greater benefit of the society.
- Maintaining an adequate essential delivery system:Truckers and seafarers, who deliver medical equipment and other essentials, must be adequately protected.
- Teleworking offers new opportunities for workers to keep working, and employers to continue their businesses through the crisis.
- Need of flexible conditions for workers:These vulnerable sections must be able to negotiate their own arrangements so that they retain balance with other responsibilities, such as caring for children, the sick or the elderly etc.
Steps taken by Government of India for the vulnerables during the crisis
Recently, the Finance Minister announced the Prime Minister’s Garib Kalyan package — a range of measures that the Government of India will take to alleviate the economic, health, and food-related distress of India’s poor in the wake of the national lockdown to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The PM Garib Kalyan package:
There are five elements to the PMGK package.
- Medical insurance cover of Rs 50 lakh for all health workers (doctors, paramedics, Asha workers etc.) treating patients.
- Help for the poor and those engaged in the unorganised sector.
- Help for the poor engaged in the organised sector.
- Help for construction workers.
- Use the money already available in the “district(-level) mineral fund” to pay for medical testing and screening for the coronavirus.
- Countries along with strong domestic measures should also take decisive multilateral action for dealing with this global enemy.
- While safeguarding the vulnerables it should be realised that “Poverty anywhere remains a threat to prosperity everywhere.” -ILO Constitution.
- It reminds us that, in years to come, the effectiveness of our response to this existential threat may be judged not just by the scale and speed of the cash injections, or whether the recovery curve is flat or steep, but by what we did for the most vulnerable among us.