From September to December 2021, YUVA’s campaign enabled the registration of 6,000+ informal workers across 8 Indian cities. This article highlights the background to this work, the process we have been undertaking and challenges overcome to register the country’s most vulnerable workers on the national database for informal workers.
An important step towards recognition
The e-Shram portal aims to develop the National Database of Unorganised Workers (NDUW) a consolidated database of unorganised workers across India. This portal, launched by India’s Ministry of Labour and Employment in August 2021 has been long awaited.
Responding to a suo moto writ petition on migrant workers’ plight during the first wave of the pandemic, the Supreme Court in June 2021 ordered the Central Government to speed up the creation of a national database of unorganised workers which had so far been pending for over a few decades. The potential impact of this database is staggering — it is intended to ensure registration of India’s informal workforce, estimated to be around 415.6 million and forming 90% of India’s workforce.
Registration on the e-Shram portal is linked with the delivery of the e-Shram card to every registered worker. This is an identity card with a 12-digit Universal Account Number (UAN). It performs a critical role by giving previously unrecognised workers much-needed visibility. With many informal workers not having any formal recognition and registration basis their nature of work, this platform and the card performs a critical role by addressing this gap. As the first centralised database for informal workers across the country, it can be a critical resource to extend social protection. As of 20 January 2022, 230 million (23,24,26,799) workers have registered on the e-Shram portal, covering almost 50 per cent of the estimated target.
Workers can self-register through the official e-Shram website or register by visiting Common Service Centres (CSCs) or State Seva Kendras (SSKs). Our work on ground reveals that in spite of a seemingly simple registration process, many workers are still unaware of this platform, its utility and face challenges in registration. Our interventions have been geared to address these gaps, and efforts we have taken in this regard in the preceding weeks form the crux of this article. It points to the role of grassroot organisations, unions and collectives in facilitating last mile access and coverage of vulnerable workers in the process.
YUVA’s work has focused on enabling unorganised workers to access their rights as workers and as residents of the city. Since the launch of the e-Shram portal, a campaign titled ‘Kamgar Shram Card Nondini Abhiyaan: Mein kamgar, mujhe mile samajik suraksha aur adhikar’ has been developed by our teams across states (in Maharashtra, Assam, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh) to ensure a focused approach to enable registration of informal workers in the e-Shram portal. The campaign aims to ensure the most marginalised workers with least access to documentation and who bear the brunt of the digital divide are registered through the portal.
How the campaign operates
Kiosks or facilitation desks are set up in places where workers live (these could be slums, at construction sites, resettlement colonies or on streets) where worker’s congregate (nakas), their places of work (construction sites, street markets, recycling hubs etc.). A small team supports each worker to register on the portal after explaining the process, the supporting documents needed, its benefits and the need to be registered.
Spreading awareness about e-Shram and why it is necessary to register has been the preliminary step. Our existing rapport with communities and outreach in newer spaces has helped us take this message to thousands of people across the country. One of the ways in which some teams have tried to spread awareness and facilitate the registration process has been via street plays. The storytelling and creative presentation of street plays makes them an extremely effective medium to communicate elaborate messages. Our teams have performed street plays for naka (daily-wage) workers at different times of the day when they are likely to be available.
The first challenge is at the stage of awareness creation. Convincing workers can sometimes be challenging especially when the immediate benefit (through schemes) is not much. Some workers are already registered under other state welfare boards (such as the state Domestic Workers’ Welfare Board [DWWB] or Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Board [BOCW-WB]) and are hesitant for another registration. We focus on helping people understand what makes e-Shram different from other state welfare boards, why registration is critical and to encourage them to opt for it. As the e-Shram ID is created instantly on registration, we also encourage registration as it gives them an instant ID which they can use, going forward.
At the moment workers who register are only eligible for Rs 2 lakh in case of accidental death and permanent disability and Rs 1 lakh for partial disability under Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana (PMSBY). With workers not seeing any other benefit attached to the registration yet (no other social protection announced via this platform so far), many are unsure of opting for registration yet.
In many cases, people are also not acquainted with the digital application process — the form is in English and requires some technical knowhow to fill. Some of the other challenges we have encountered in registering workers are that many workers’ Aadhaar linked mobile numbers are not updated and this requires a fix before the e-Shram registration can take place. To overcome this challenge, in many areas our teams have tied up with CSCs and even post offices where the Aadhar-mobile linking is facilitated. In Panvel for example, the team works with the local post office and has set aside a time where this linking is facilitated only for those workers sent by our teams — this saves workers time and also ensures the overall registration processes is speeded up.
Some workers have also approached the Common Service Centres, and in some cases have been asked to pay anything between INR 100–500, although the process is supposed to be free or cost a nominal amount. Since informal sector workers mostly depend on their daily wages to subsist, they are also hesitant to opt for registration in case it involves any lengthy procedures and comes in the way of their income earning capacity. Often workers may be interested after some time, once they have had time to think about this process. We give them a campaign pamphlet with phone numbers and YUVA’s Labour Helpline number so that they can call when they are ready to register.
In the early days of registration, there were also many challenges related to the server downtime, which slowed down applications. Over time, some of these challenges have resolved, and the team is trying to handle other queries better.
Working in partnership
In order to ensure last mile connectivity to the most vulnerable workers the campaign fosters partnerships with stakeholders. For example, in Guwahati the team was approached by the Labour Department to carry out registrations. As a result, the team ensured that Common Service Centre staff come to informal settlements to facilitate registration at the doorstep of workers. In Navi Mumbai and Panvel in partnership with Stree Mukti Sangathana, our teams have ensured women waste recyclers are registered. In both cases, workers who are least likely to register due to lack of awareness and documentation have been supported. Often this process is time consuming when workers do not have the correct documentation. However, our experience highlights that when this is facilitated by organisations known to workers, the scope to follow up on an incomplete registrations and even update data is much more likely.
An evolving campaign
To ensure the registration process is accurate, our teams are also constantly keeping abreast of evolving registration guidelines, such as keeping track of the evolving NCO code list on the e-Shram website detailing worker occupation types. Teams are studying it to ensure that workers are correctly registered as per the jobs that they perform.
Currently, applications for workers’ pension (Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maandhan Yojana) have also been linked to the e-Shram portal, and our teams are mindful of facilitating this too, if needed. Similarly, the Ayushman Bharat Health Account by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare can be seamlessly processed, and some teams are facilitating these cards for workers too. This account however is more of a digital health record but does not have any social protection scheme attached.
With granular data on informal workers now available, social protection schemes and policies should be tailor-made for specific workers groups keeping in mind specific needs. We are continuing to take ahead the campaign with a more focused approach in the coming weeks, to ensure that more hard-to-reach migrant informal workers are registered — with the hope that this enables access to social protection going forward.
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