A sarkari naukri (government job) that has been providing a sense of socio-economic security to middle-class Indians for years is losing its protective spell as the government’s reliance on contractual workers has been increasing under the current BJP regime.
The share of non-permanent and contractual workers in central government jobs has increased from mere 19 per cent in 2015-16 to 37 per cent in 2019-20, as per the last Public Enterprises Survey report.
The share of permanent employees during the same period has dipped by 25 per cent, the report added.
As per the data provided by the survey, a total of 53,127 casual workers were appointed as of March 31, 2020, compared to 19,103 such workers at the end of March 2016. The number of contractual workers in central public sector enterprises increased to 4,98,807 in March 2020 from 2,67,929 in March 2016.
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“The number will be much more if a headcount is made today, as the trend of appointing non-permanent employees in the government sector is increasing day by day with the government shifting into corporate mode,” said general secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) Amarjeet Kaur.
Kaur said that at least 52,000 sanctioned government posts are vacant across the country, but these posts are deliberately not filled up because a sanction post ceases to exist if it remains unfilled for two consecutive years.
“The ploy here is simple. To plug the manpower shortage created due to reduction of sanctioned posts, the government starts hiring contractual workers,” Kaur pointed out.
The government has also introduced voluntary retirement schemes in various public-sector enterprises to reduce the number of their permanent employees.
Incidentally, most ‘Maharatna’ companies of the country, particularly those in the lucrative oil and gas sector, are leading recruiters of casual and contractual workers, as per the Public Enterprises Survey.
The Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC) leads the pack with 81 per cent of its staff strength by the end of March 2020 consisting of contractual workers, as per the survey report. The count of contractual workers then was 43,397. This is a significant jump considering that the ONGC did not employ any contractual worker in 2015-16.
The Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited—another government-owned leading oil and gas company– filled 72 per cent of its staff with contractual workers as on March 2020. The number of non-permanent workers was 28,923 out of its total staff strength of 40,172, the survey revealed.
Similar employment pattern is noticed in the Indian Oil Corporation Limited, where 69 per cent of the employees were contractual.
The government clearly sees a benefit in employing contractual workers as it does not have to pay such employees’ pension and other social security benefits such as healthcare and also does not have any obligation to regularly revise their pay packages. Moreover, such employees also have less bargaining power.
The trade unions, however, see a dangerous trend in this corporate-style recruitment pattern in the government sectors.
“If the trend continues, it will disturb industrial peace and will eventually lead to social unrest,” Kaur cautioned.
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Kaur said that the trade unions have conveyed their concern over the development to the government on many occasions, including during the recent pre-budget meeting with Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
The issue will also be highlighted during the two-day countrywide general strike called by central trade unions and sectoral federations/ associations on March 28-29 to protest against “anti-worker, anti-people, anti-national policies” of the Union government.