We need sound policies that tackle joblessness, not doctored numbers

An analysis of the government’s performance on employment generation depends on the set of figures one would consider for the purpose. For instance, labour bureau statistics suggest that 4.8 lakh additional jobs have been created in 14 months beginning April 2016 in eight sectors, including manufacturing, construction, trade, transport, hotels and restaurants, information technology and BPOs, education and health. Among these sectors, education and healthcare have emerged as major contributors to both temporary and permanent jobs addition. In fact, the labour bureau statistics portray 2.8 per cent growth in the jobs market across six productive sectors.

On the other hand, if the numbers for the first three months of this fiscal are any indication, then the job losses were rampant in the manufacturing sector with 87,000 people getting pink slips. However, 64,000 new jobs were added in eight core sectors during the April-June 2017 quarter under consideration. The labour bureau’s quarterly survey of jobs data may have to serve as a red flag for the Narendra Modi government that had promised 10 million additional work opportunities as part of its Lok Sabha election manifesto in 2014.

Juxtaposing the labour bureau numbers with that of additions to the Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) provides a contrary picture for the jobs markets in the organised sector. The addition of 7.5 crore new subscribers to EPFO in the last three years indicate a more optimistic scenario notwithstanding criticism that the economic growth was ‘lacklustre’ and ‘jobless’. But, the additions to EPFO subscription peaked at 4.06 crore in 2015 and moderated to 2.19 crore in 2017.

The moot point, however, is that there is no credible data relating to temporary or permanent jobs addition after June 2017. Non-availability of either official or private data on jobs has turned out to be a big limiting factor in mapping a trend analysis on job growth in the last seven months.

If one were to go by the pre-budget Economic Survey, 2018, employment and finding work opportunities especially for the aspiring youth was flagged as the biggest challenge. Especially getting women to work places easily figured as a major pressure point at a time when 12 million youngsters join the jobs market annually. Restlessness amongst industrial labour has only added a new dimension to the already tricky jobs market conditions notwithstanding the numbers dished out by different organisations as a matter of routine.

The industrial work force has virtually been on the warpath. That has included the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), India’s largest trade union that is part of the Sangh parivar. The BMS is reported to be upset enough with the BJP-led NDA government that it held protests across the country terming the budget as ‘anti-labour’. Leave alone job creation, trade unions have pointed to deterioration in work conditions for those already on payrolls. While the government made an attempt to re-establish a connect with farm labour and farmers through the budget, industrial labour is not only agitated over rampant job losses but frustrated with the Modi regime.

‘Hire and fire’ policy adopted by the government as part of the labour reforms package seems to be a sore point for the top trade unions, including BMS. Hence, its call for dharnas on a day when prime minister Narendra Modi was scheduled to lead consultations at the Indian labour conference is significant. A serious rift in the Sangh parivar that’s widening especially on issues relating to industry, labour and jobs creation may force a ‘mid-course policy correction’. Perhaps finance minister Arun Jaitley will articulate an alternative plan for job creation in industry. But, that does not alter the facts. There is a serious moderation in creation of new work opportunities which has occurred simultaneously with the deterioration in terms of employment for the existing work force. Both need to be addressed urgently.