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Protection of Rights of Unorganized Workers

The unorganized sector in India plays an important role in the development of the economy. Around 92% of India's population consists of unorganized workers. The unorganized workers do not have enough means to provide security for themselves. Social security for workers is important for the workers families and for the community.

Most unorganized workers face many problems like low wages, work hazards, etc. The Unorganized Workers Social Security Act, 2008 is the legislation enacted by the government that provides social security benefits to the unorganized workers. The Indian judiciary plays an important role in protecting the rights of the unorganized sector.

There are many schemes and policies for the unorganized workers that provides social security and many more benefits for the welfare of the workers. This paper focuses on the problems faced by the unorganized workers, role of judiciary for protecting the unorganized sector and policies formulated for the protection of unorganized sector.

In India, around 44 crore people work as unorganized workers in the unorganized sector. The unorganized sector faces many difficulties like employment opportunities, employer- employee relationship, low wages etc. Many unorganized workers live in slum areas and their living condition is very poor in terms of hygiene, etc.

There are many statutes and laws for the unorganized workers, but they are still not provided with social security benefits. Social security provides protection for the unorganized sector. The need for social security is a fundamental human right and it should be provided to all citizens. Social security provided to the unorganized sector is not recognized and efforts should be taken by the government. The Unorganized Workers Social Security Act, 2008 aims in providing a framework for welfare schemes for the unorganized sector.

Who are unorganized workers?

Under section 2(m) of the Unorganized Workers Social Security Act, 2008, the term �unorganized worker' means a home-based worker or a self- employed worker or a wage worker in the unorganized sector. It includes a worker in the organized sector who is not covered by any of the acts pertaining to welfare schemes as mentioned in Schedule � II of Unorganized Workers Social Security Act, 2008[1]. Unorganized workers take over the Indian labor market and represent 90% of the total Indian workforce. Unorganized sector in India is one of the largest in the post- industrial world[2].

Unorganized Workers are people who do not have the benefit of pension, maternity leave, provident fund, gratuity etc. These workers work on daily and hourly wages. The unorganized labour in India is enormous when it comes to its number range and hence they are omnipresent in India. The unorganized sector has to put up with cycles of excessive seasonality of employment because most of the unorganized workers do not have secure durable avenues of employment. Unorganized workers have no formal employer � employee relationship and their workplace is scattered and disintegrated. Unorganized workers are subjected to indebtedness as their income does not meet with their living needs. These workers face exploitation, harassment, discrimination by the rest of the society[3].

Major problems faced by Unorganized Workers

In India, 90% of the workforces are engaged in unorganized sector. As being the weaker section in the society, they deal with many problems. Even though the unorganized sector contributes to the economy, they are faced with many challenges. They are:
  1. High level of insecurities in jobs:
    Unorganized workers depend on various jobs due to insecurity of work. Factors like climate change, locations etc. affect the employment opportunities for unorganized workers. For example, agricultural sector in India is highly irregular and unassured. This is because of the availability of work to them. They are engaged only for 3 months in a year and the remaining 9 months they are either unemployed or they search for alternative jobs to sustain from starvation.
  2. Minimum wages
    Sec 2(h) of Minimum Wages Act, 1948 defines the term �Wages'. It means remuneration capable of being expressed in terms of money which would if the terms of the contract of employment express or implied were fulfilled be payable to a person employed in respect of his employment or of work done in such employment and includes house rent allowance[4]. Even though the act defines the term, the workers are not paid minimum wages in most cases. In Peoples' Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India, the Supreme Court held that even if poverty forces anyone to work for minimum wage, Article 23 prohibits employing workers for wages below the statutory minimum level as it results in forced labour[5].
  3. Long working hours
    In the Unorganized sector, long working hours are beyond the labour and regulatory norms which is standard in India. The agricultural sector has no fixed working hours as there are no laws that regulate the working hours for the agricultural sector. In the other unorganized sectors, the working hours are fixed from 12- 15 hours and their wages depend on the hours their work for their employer. As most of the workers are illiterate and are dependent on the wages given by the employer they are exploited by the employer as they force the workers to work for more hours[6].
  4. Work hazards, occupational safety and living conditions
    Unorganized workers are exposed to dangerous working conditions which affects their health conditions. They face many health problems because they have low nutrition and their excessive physical activities. Due to their low income, they are unable to pay for their medical expenses. Workers who work in firework factories, tobacco factories, and matchstick factories are prone to respiratory diseases because of inhaling the tobacco dust, fire powder etc. Workers in agricultural sector are affected by excessive use of pesticide, insecticide and fertilizers. Unorganized workers live in slum areas and unsanitary conditions. Basic facilities like washing areas, toilet facilities etc. are below standard.
  5. Women and children are unprotected
    Art 39(d) of the Constitution of India talks about equal pay for equal work[7]. This means that all workers should be given equal wages irrespective of their sex. Wages given to men are more than the wages given to women and children for their equal hours of work. Many children are forced to work in households, dhabas, and tea shops for low wages. Children work for long working hours and they are exposed to many hazardous working conditions which affect their health. Women are sexually harassed and assaulted in many workplaces. Women experience many physical and mental problems and they are not aware of their rights.

Unorganized Workers Social Security Act, 2008

The Unorganized Workers Social Security Act, 2008 was passed by the Parliament of India on December 30, 2008. This act aims to provide social security and welfare to the unorganized sector. The Central Government and State Government has made various schemes connected to life, disability, old age, housing, education, employment etc. These schemes are funded by the Central and State Government. This act is applicable to whole of India, specifically for the unorganized sector. For the implementation of the law, the government has constituted the National Social Security Board and the State Social Security Board.

National Social Security Board

The National Social Security Board is constituted by the Union Government. The chairman for labour and employment is the Union Minister. The members of the Union Government appoint 7 people who represent workers and employers in the unorganized sector. The board gives recommendations to the Union Government about schemes for the unorganized workers. They advise the government on matters that arise out of administration of the act. The board monitors schemes that were formulated for unorganized workers[8].

State Social Security Board

For proper implementation of the act, the State Government has constituted social security board in each state. The composition of the State Social Security Board is same as the National Social Security Board. The board reviews the registration and gives identity cards to the unorganized workers[9]. The board is not empowered to perform many functions. They can only review and monitor. They are not allowed to take any decisions on their own because only the government can decide on the recommendations made by the board.

Limitations of the Act

Apart from the establishments of national and state level boards, the act does not refer about security provided to the unorganized workers. A separate bill for agricultural workers and schemes for agricultural workers are not brought up by the act. This act is applicable only for a small section of unorganized sector. There is no mention of any provision that talks about punishing any employer who violates the act and bureaucrats who does not register any unorganized worker under the schemes[10].

Role of Judiciary for the protection of Unorganized Sector

When there is a failure of proper implementation of legislations, the judiciary protects the rights of unorganized workers. Apart from legislations, the Constitution of India grants fundamental rights to the unorganized workers. Any person who works but not paid minimum wages for the work he does, then it violates Art 21 of the Constitution of India[11]. Article 21 states that the bonded labour should be recognized by the government[12]. Every State Government has to provide basic human dignity to bonded labour.

In Sanjit Roy V. State of Rajasthan[13], the court held that whenever any person who works for the state is affected by drought or scarcity, the state shall not pay him minimum wages as it violates Art 23 of the Constitution of India. Any labour work done by prisoners and if they are not paid minimum wages, it means it is forced labour and it infringes Art 23 of the Constitution[14].

In Daily Rated Casual Labour v. Union of India[15], the court held that if the workers are classified into regular and working employees, then it leads to infringement of Art 14 and 16 of the Constitution. No person can refuse to render services to any worker on the ground that they belong to scheduled caste[16]. The judiciary should protect the rights of unorganized sector and should implement social security welfare schemes for the benefit of the unorganized workers.

Policies for Unorganized Workers

Social security is necessary for the welfare of unorganized workers. There was no specific legislation on social security for unorganized workers. The unorganized workers are covered under various policies formulated by the government.

National Policy on Skill Development

The National Policy on Skill Development empowers individuals to improve skills, knowledge, nationally and internationally recognize qualifications to gain better job opportunities. The aim of this policy is to enhance individual's employability and ability to adapt to changing technologies.

It aims to improve productivity and standard of living for workers. The objective of the policy is to create opportunities to workers including women and youth who are skilled in the work they do. It also aims to develop a high quality workforce related to current and emerging market needs. It helps to attract investment in skill development and strengthen competitiveness in the country[17].

National Policy on Safety, Health and Environment at Work Place
Safety and health of the unorganized workers have a positive impact on productivity, economic and social development. The goals of this policy is to improve safety, health and environment at workplaces.

The objectives are to reduce work related accidents, harmful diseases and cover the financial requirements for the people affected. It also aims in spreading awareness about safety, health and environment related issues. It establishes suitable schemes for unorganized workers regarding subsidies. It enforces all rules and regulations regarding safety, health and environment at workplace. It ensures that all the workers and employers have rights and responsibilities in achieving safe and healthy working conditions[18].

National Policy on HIV AIDS

National Policy on HIV AIDS is necessary to provide guidelines to unorganized workers about the HIV AIDS infection. To fight against HIV AIDS, stigma and discrimination is an important challenge. Due to lack of understanding, most employers from both public and private sector have not taken up workplace intervention.

In the next 10- 12 years, India's growth will create around 10 million jobs and most workers will be young workers. If there is a spread of HIV AIDS, then it would affect the economic growth of the country. In order to prevent this, workplace policies should have appropriate services and provide information regarding the same. The aim of this policy is to prevent the transmission of HIV AIDS amongst the workers. It also aims to provide access to treatment and protects the rights of the affected workers[19].

National Child Labour Policy

On 14th August 1987, the National Child Labour Policy was approved by the cabinet. The main objective of this policy was to eliminate child labour in hazardous working sectors. In this scheme, the target group was for children aged below 14 years and who worked in places where children were affected with health problems.

The policy aims to launch for the welfare of children who are working in areas where there is high concentration of child labour. The policy focuses on rehabilitation of children who work in hazardous working areas. Activities like formal, non- formal education, raising public awareness by conducting campaigns and rallies are etc. conducted by the government to eliminate child labour[20].

Unorganized workers in India face many problems like low wages, cruel treatment by employers, poor living condition, etc. Social security is one of the important subject that should be recognized by the government to reduce poverty in the country. Apart from the Unorganized Workers Social Security Act, 2008, there are many schemes like old age scheme, life insurance scheme, health insurance scheme, etc. for the welfare of unorganized workers.

The rights of the unorganized workers are protected by various articles in the constitution of India. The unorganized workers should be given awareness regarding their health, living, and wages and should not be exploited by the employers in their working areas.


  1. Sec 2(m) of Unorganized Workers Social Security Act, 2008
  4. Sec 2(h) of Minimum Wages Act, 1948
  5. AIR 1982 SC 1473
  6. Tiwari R.S., �Informal Sector Workers: Problems and Prospects?, Anmol Publisher, New Delhi, 2005, p.5
  7. Art 39(d) of Constitution of India'
  8. Chapter III, Sec 5 of Unorganized Workers Social Security Act, 2008
  9. Chapter IV, Sec 6 of Unorganized Workers Social Security Act, 2008
  11. People Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India (1982 AIR 1473)
  12. Art 21 of the Constitution of India
  13. 1983 AIR 328, 1983 SCR (2) 27
  14. Shabnam v. Union Of India
  15. 1987 AIR 2342, 1988 SCR (1) 598
  16. The State vs Banwari Nandu Jat And Anr (1957 CriLJ 539)

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