The Union Ministry of Labour & Employment launched a national database to register unorganised workers, called the e-Shram portal, on August 26, 2021. The portal has been handed over to states and Union Territories to register unorganised workers, domestic workers, construction workers, migrant workers, gig & platform workers and ensure that welfare schemes meant for them reach them.

"For the first time in India, a system is being made to register 38 crore unorganised workers. It will not only register them but would also be helpful in delivering of various social security schemes being implemented by the central and state governments," said Union Minister for Labour and Employment Bhupender Yadav.

Unorganised Workers: Who & How Many?

The Code On Social Security, 2019 defines unorganised worker as "a home-based worker, self-employed worker or a wage worker in the unorganised sector and includes a worker in the organised sector who is not covered by the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 or Chapters III to VII of this Code".

"A large number of unorganised workers are home based and are engaged in occupations such as beedi rolling, agarbatti making, papad making, tailoring, embroidery work, workers who are working or engaged as street vendors, head loaders, brick kiln workers, cobblers, rag pickers, domestic workers, washermen, rickshaw pullers, landless labourers, own account workers, agricultural workers, construction workers, handloom workers, leather workers, audio- visual workers and similar other occupations," enlisted the Ministry of Labour & Employment's Annual Report 2020-21.

In India, 38.2% of the population is employed, shows the recently-released Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) Annual Report 2019-20. And, the unorganised sector represents 81% of the workforce, according to the ministry's annual report.

The ministry's report added that in 2017-18, the total employment in both the organised and unorganised sectors was 47 crore, of which around 38 crore worked in the unorganised sector. The number of unorganised workers is expected to have increased due to the pandemic-infused economic burdens, highlighted the report.

What is e-Shram portal

The e-Shram portal is developed by the Ministry of Labour & Employment in collaboration with the National Informatics Centre (NIC) at a cost of Rs 704.01 crore. Although the responsibility of registering unorganised workers and populating the portal lies with state governments.

The objective of this platform is creation of a centralised database of all unorganised workers that's seeded with Aadhaar, mentioned an August 2021 report by the Standing Committee on Labour. The portal will have details like name, occupation, address, educational qualification, skill types and family details etc. for "optimum realisation of their employability and extend the benefits of the social security schemes to them".

FactChecker also spoke to Manoj Kumar Gupta, Director at the Directorate General Labour Welfare, Ministry of Labour & Employment, to seek clarification on the registration process, salient features of the portal and why it was needed.

"To enrol, the person's Aadhar number, mobile number, and bank account number will be collected. We're collecting bank numbers because if there is any benefit that requires a direct bank transfer by the government, then that can be facilitated with ease," Gupta told FactChecker.

Although the Labour Ministry told the Standing Committee that registration under the national database for unorganised workers (NDUW) is "voluntary", it also said to avail any social security benefit "one is required to be registered on the NDUW portal".

For online registrations, workers can use e-Shram's mobile application or the website. They can also go to Common Service Centres, State Seva Kendra, Labour Facilitation Centres, selected post offices of Department of Posts' Digital Seva Kendras, and more.

"Now we have 38-40 crore unorganised workers, and with more and more registrations, more workers will now have an identity. A street vendor, having a street vendor card, will be able to avail a loan too if he needs," added Gupta.

On asking if an unorganised worker can register if they do not have a bank account, Gupta replied saying over 90% of the Indians have bank accounts, around 1.29 billion Aadhar numbers have been issued and there are more than 145 crore mobile numbers that are registered in the country.

"We are also putting a feature to let workers update personal details like their phone numbers, bank account details, occupation details, and more, in case any of those change in the future and if new schemes are introduced they can avail benefits as soon as they're implemented," Gupta added.

This system is also aimed at helping migrant workers by making the benefits they are entitled to more "portable". "Workers hail from one state, but work in another. Their Aadhar's are linked to their home state and if they try to register, they're told they can't because they don't belong to that particular state. This way they can't avail any benefits. But now, through e-Shram, they will receive the benefits, which now become portable to make their lives easier," Gupta told FactChecker.

State of Unorganised Workers

The National Human Rights Commission, released a study on the social security and health rights of migrant workers in October 2020, which concluded that benefits of many central schemes did not reach interstate migrant workers (ISMWs). The commission conducted field surveys in Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, and Maharashtra.

"The access to schemes for ISMW ranges from 0.5% to 27.5% which means the lowest level of access is 0.5% of migrant workers and highest is 27.5%," read the study.

According to this survey, the Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana, the national public health insurance scheme, reached 3.25% ISMWs in Gujarat, 3.5% in Haryana and 3% in Maharashtra. Similarly, the reach of National Social Assistance Programme in Gujarat, Haryana, and Maharashtra was 4%, 4.5% and 4.25%, respectively.

The commission highlighted that in Delhi and the three states, only a tiny section of migrant workers is registered with relevant authorities. "Employers and contractors do not register them with labour department to escape from liabilities and reduced employer benefits. Unregistered migrant workers cannot claim most of the available social security schemes," read the report.

There are approximately 2 crore registered construction workers across the country and they are the most vulnerable segment of unorganised workers. During COVID-19 first wave, a total of Rs 5,618 crore was disbursed as relief for 1.82 crore construction workers, during the second wave, Rs. 1,708 crore (approximately) was disbursed for 1.18 crore such workers in seven states, namely Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Nagaland, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, showed the Standing Committee report.

"It is a matter of serious concern that apart from the above-mentioned seven states, not a single construction worker in any other state/UT has been given cash benefit/relief during the relatively more deadly second wave," read the report.

Moreover, the PLFS 2019-20 highlighted that 54.2% of the regular waged or salaried employees in the non-agriculture sector are not eligible for social security benefits.

"Take for example, the guards working in the private sector. We have no details about them. There are many big companies who hire such workers, but there are no benefits given to them. If they are registered, then at least we can know if they're in the organised or unorganised sector," Gupta concluded.