At last, jobs have grown, by 29 per cent in the April-June quarter, says the employment survey of the labour bureau. The total employment rose to 3.08 crore compared to 2.3 crore jobs in 2013-14 as per the seventh quarterly economic survey (QES), in manufacturing, health, education, IT/BPO, trade, financial services. During this period the highest rise was noticed in the IT/BPO sector — by as much as 152 per cent. It employs about 6.7 per cent of the labour force. Another aspect is the constant dipping of the total number of employees on payrolls since 2017 from 11.3 lakh employees to 10.3 lakh in 2019. The number of public sector employees reduced from 19.59 lakh in 1997-98 to 16.14 lakh in 2006-07. Similarly, women employees declined during 2017-20, dipping from 1.15 lakh in 2017 to 87,667 in two years. NITI Ayog CEO Amitabh Kant in the Aayog portal in 2020 commented: “Though there is sufficient employment, but the true challenge is to create well-paying quality jobs. Unfortunately, the leak of data from the first year of the two-year pilot periodic labour force survey (PLFS) done by the NSSO, before it could be fully verified, and subsequent media reports jumping to conclusions based on incomplete and half-baked data has added confusion and misdirection to the prevalent situation rather than helping.” Those surveys presented a poor job scenario, says Kant and the survey sample was small and inadequate. India’s original strength was a mixed economy. It had its problems. The private sector had to face tough rules to be in competition. So, liberalization was welcomed. It saw a revamp in the PSU structures and the emergence of efficient, profit-making PSUs. Many of these became globally competitive. But policy changes and influence of the private sector saw these giants diminishing through job squeezes and delayed decision-making. While jobs and overall numbers of PSUs declined with gradual disinvestments, a proper model need to replicate those giants was largely absent. While giving a boost to the private sector is welcome, it also needs to be seen that they come up with their own models and survive not just on acquisition of public sector assets. That is where a pragmatic private sector is needed or else the country has to rethink how the public sector is not only retained but get back its strength. A country to make a firm progress has to have two different kinds of models.
The CMIE on September 3 report says urban unemployment rose to 9.78 per cent in August from 8.3 per cent in July and 10.07 per cent in June 2021. The urban unemployment rate was 7.27 per cent in March, just before the second wave of Covid-19 hit the country. Another observation of the PLFS is that there has been a sharp increase in employment in agriculture from 42.5 per cent of total employment in 2018-19 to 45.6 per cent in 2019-20. This trend is interpreted as a sequel to the pandemic closures of many activities, including the unorganised constructions sector. The migrant labourers chose to work in the agriculture sector. The NSO’s periodic labour force survey for July 2019 – June 2020 mentions a surge in female labour force participation rate. However, much of the increase is in the most sub-optimal category of unpaid family workers. The rise in agriculture, too, is mostly in this category. As in many developing countries, India also showed signs of decline in agricultural employment corresponding to production. The employment rate for unpaid workers in household enterprises increased from 13.3 per cent in 2018-19 to 15.9 per cent in 2019-2020. For female workers, the employment for unpaid work increased to 35 per cent from 30 per cent in 2018-19. Experts believe that such data is not a good sign for gender empowerment in employment. India needs to look at this lowest level of subsistence. Amitabh Kant does not talk about them but stresses on the Rs 1.96 lakh crore Production-Linked Incentive scheme. He hopes it would generate an incremental production of $520 billion in five years and pave the way for $5 trillion economy. It is basically aimed at funding the private sector. Had this been aimed at the public sector, the gains could have been more. It is still not late to include the public sector. That jobs are not growing everywhere is also clear from QES. In many sectors there have been job losses like the accommodation industry, travel and tourism and wage reduction in many others including IT.
(The writer is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal.)