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Round Table on ''Women's Economic Empowment and Labour Code on Social Security"

May, 2019

2nd May 2018 at Kamaladevi Complex, India International Centre, New Delhi

Organised by - Institute of Social Studies Trust

Supported by - Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Concept Note

Women’s Economic Empowerment and Labour Code on Social Security

The Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India, has drafted a new Labour Code on Social Security as an attempt to simplify, rationalise and consolidate the existing fragmented laws linked to it into one law. The aim is not only to amalgamate the existing laws but more importantly, to universalise social security to the entire workforce through a rights-based approach. The code proposes to rectify the lacunae created by the current social security system in India which primarily caters to a small proportion of workforce involved in the organized sector. Also the multiplicity of laws, policies and schemes linked to social security creates a complex web, which is difficult to decipher and keep track for common people. Through progressive extension of coverage, the code aims to cover all kinds of employment including, a part time worker, casual worker for fixed term, piece rate/ commission rated worker, informal home-based workers, domestic workers as well as seasonal workers. This is definitely a positive step towards recognising the contribution of informal workers in the economy. However, a detailed scrutiny of the code is required to understand how it will impact the participation and conditions of work of the most marginalised and deprived sections of the society, and how it is likely to impact women workers.

As an attempt to initiate discussion and debate on these lines, Institute of Social Studies Trust (ISST), as part of its Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) sponsored project, “Creating momentum for gender transformative programming and advancing gender equity” has organised a round table discussion. The objective of this discussion is to understand the likely impact that this new social security code may have in terms of women’s economic empowerment. We hope to take forward the discussion on the following lines:

Catering to invisible unpaid workers: Among the three work categories identified by the NSS – regular salaried, casual worker and self-employed, majority of women workforce fall under the category of being self-employed, where working more as helpers within the family businesses, they contribute to the production economy but do not receive any independent remuneration for their labour. While the social security code attempts to cover a wide range of workers employed in the unorganised sector, its definition of ‘employee’ completely eliminates the unpaid women labourers from receiving any kind of social security benefits. This elimination has serious gender implications as it would only reinforce the patriarchal notions of man being the bread-winner while woman being dependent on him. This notion is completely false as it is well researched that women contribute in several ways to the household economy. In what way could the new labour code on social security make space for unpaid women workers, in order to bring in more visibility to, and recognition of, their contribution?

Reaching informal women workers: what are some of the practical ways in which inclusion of informal women workers, including those that are relatively invisible such as home-based workers, could be ensured?

The impact of reformed maternity benefits on declining women’s work participation rate: The code covers all women employees under maternity benefit scheme and aims to provide maternity benefits for a period of 26 weeks. This is a significant increase from 12 weeks as was given in the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961. Considering that unpaid care work and reproductive labour is an important reason for low participation rate of women in the paid work force, these benefits are expected to make positive impact in terms of enhancing the participation of women in paid labour. However, is there a possibility that the increased burden of this new scheme of maternity benefit on employers may deter them from hiring women in the first place? Also, considering that 90 percent of the women workforce is engaged in informal work where they may not have a regular source of employment or are engaged in unpaid work, what else needs to be in place to ensure that the benefits under this maternity scheme, reach out to these women? the Report from here :