Rekha Patil, a vegetable seller on a footpath in suburban Mumbai, is a small part of India’s vast informal economy. Her husband, a farmer in Palghar, about 110 km north of Mumbai, has an unreliable income. But Patil’s earnings of Rs 350 a day barely sustain her family. She pushes herself to work even when she is sick, afraid of losing a day’s income. This is getting difficult as she ages. But with scant savings and no pension to bank on, 50-year-old Patil cannot dream of retirement.
India’s social security laws are currently applicable only to the organised sector. The Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008, has been poorly implemented. A decade after the Act came into force, the majority of India’s workers, like Patil, do not have access to medical insurance, maternity support or retirement benefits.
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government claims it can change this through a new law drafted in 2017. Called the social security code, it will consolidate 15 existing laws on pension, disability and life insurance as well as maternity, medical and unemployment coverage. It is one of the four labour codes that the Union government has drafted to ease the implementation of India’s labour laws.
The main advantage of the new social security code is that it will cover both the organised and the unorganised sector – about 50 crore workers, the government claims.