E-Shram needs some hard work to get going

Synopsis: India’s challenge of providing social security benefits to unorganized workers can be revamped through initiatives like E-Shram.


The Ministry of Labour and Employment (MOLE) launched the E-Shram, the web portal for creating a National Database of Unorganized Workers (NDUW), which will be seeded with Aadhaar.

What is e-Shram Portal?

e-Shram Portal is a database of unorganised sector workers. It aims to register 38 crore unorganised workers, such as construction labourers, migrant workforce, street vendors etc

It has come into existence after the repeated directives of the Supreme Court and even after passing the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008.

Read more: Government of India launches the e-Shram Portal
What are the problems associated with it?

Long Process: Given the size of the Indian labour force, it is going to be a long-drawn process. This is evident as till now, only 0.61 million workers have been registered.

Data Security: The measure would require the central government to share data with the state government. However, the data security credential of the State government is doubtful.

Eligibility: The government has excluded workers covered by EPF (Employees Provident Fund) and ESI (Employees’ State Insurance). This would mean that lakhs of contract and fixed-term contract workers will be excluded from the ambit of Unorganised Workers.

Read more: Migrant workers and their Social protection in India – Explained, pointwise

Under the Social Security Code (SSC), hazardous establishments employing even one worker will have to be covered under the ESI, which means these workers also will be excluded.

Further, the NDUW excludes workers aged over 59 from its ambit, which constitutes age discrimination.

Aadhar Criteria: Aadhaar-seeding is a controversial issue. Many workers will not have an Aadhaar-seeded mobile or even a smartphone.

Identity: Many unorganized workers are circular migrant workers. They quickly shift from one trade to another. Many others perform both formal and informal work, e.g. during non-office hours, some may belong to the gig economy like an Uber taxi driver or a Swiggy employee.

  • This creates confusion on multiple fronts. Firstly, MOLE has included gig workers in this process, but there is confusion whether gig/platform worker can be classified first as a worker at all (the other three Labour Codes do not include these workers).
  • Secondly, their classification as organized or unorganized workers is also not clear. The definition of an “unorganized worker” in the Social Security Code does not include them.

Dependency: The central government will have to depend on the state governments for this project to be successful. Given political issues between different parties ruling states, this can be challenging.

Corruption: Concern about corruption also exists, as middle-service agencies such as Internet providers might charge high charges to register and print the E-Shram cards.

Why E-Shram portal is vital?

E-Shram is a vital system to provide invisible workers much-needed visibility. It will provide the Labour Market Citizenship Document to them. It will also link delivery of all kinds of benefits and voices to workers/citizens, viz. One-Nation-One-Ration Card (ONOR), E-Shram Card (especially bank account seeded) and the Election Commission Card.

Source: This post is based on “E-Shram needs some hard work to get going” published in The Hindu on 17th September 2021.

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