02/25/2022, 14.00
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The tragedy of youth labour in India

by Alessandra De Poli

Educated but unemployed, or workers treated like cannon fodder. This is the picture that emerges from recent surveys on the Indian labour market. In the automotive sector, thousands of workers are seriously injured and have no protection. But the car industry is expected to be worth 300 billion dollars in 2026.


New Delhi (AsiaNews) - In India there are no jobs for young people who have studied, because the market offers dangerous, degrading and poorly paid jobs, tasks for which graduates are overqualified. This is the picture that emerges from an analysis of some recent surveys on the situation of Indian workers, and it is also the context in which the protests that broke out in Bihar last month after 12.5 million people applied for 35,000 jobs in the state railways should be seen.

The Indian economy is growing, with forecasts giving it an 8.5% growth rate for the financial year 2022-23, despite uncertainties and risks related to the exit from the pandemic. But it is not just academics who are benefiting from job creation, aspiring to jobs in government offices, or in the administration of a large company. 

A Periodic Labour Force Survey reports the unemployment rate was already over 6 per cent in 2017-18, the highest figure in 45 years. In the 15-29 age group, the figure was 17.8%, a figure that has remained above 15% in subsequent years. A breakdown of the data shows that the unemployment rate rises as the level of education increases. A dramatic situation and a problem that dates back to before the pandemic, but now so frustrating, after all the sacrifices made to study, some students say, that it is leading some young people to commit suicide.

The demand for labour is there, but in the industries, where workers are treated - sometimes literally - like cannon fodder. Thousands of workers in the automotive sector, for example, have lost their fingers, a hand or suffered serious neck and head injuries after handling machinery without safety protections. This is reported in the Crushed 2021 report, the third document on the subject produced by the Safe in India Foundation  (Sii), which has been collecting nationwide data on the conditions of migrants and workers working in this sector since 2017. 

Of the 3,268 workers assisted by Sii, 2,584 (80%) work(go) in the factories of suppliers to the biggest brands in the sector, such as Suzuki, Motorcop and Honda. Seventy per cent have lost a hand or fingers, a figure that has remained constant over the last five years, while just over 20 per cent have suffered various types of bone fractures. 71% reported earning less than 10,000 rupees per month (less than 120 euros) for 12-hour shifts. Overtime is not paid. The vast majority of the injured (92%) are migrant workers, mainly from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa. They are very poorly educated and 62% of them are young people under 30. 

More than 50 per cent of the accidents happen with electric presses because they are not equipped with safety sensors or because the workers are not trained in their operation. Safety checks have been declining for years and the government's figures also differ greatly from those collected by Sii. The Directorate General Factory Advice Service & Labour Institute, the technical arm of India's Ministry of Labour, for example, has recorded about 50 non-fatal accidents in the northern state of Haryana (about 2% of the total nationwide) compared to about 500 reported to Sii alone every year since 2016.

Sii's research also shows that the lower a worker's salary and education, the worse the injury (the more fingers lost, literally); this pushes workers even further to the margins of society due to the physical and psychological trauma reported, which prevents them from finding new employment. The payment of insurance contributions often turns out to be a scam: 70% of injured workers reported that they received their insurance card from the Employees' State Insurance Corporation - which provides access to health benefits in the event of illness, accidents and death - only after the accident, not when they were hired, and thus were not entitled to any compensation, despite having already paid their contributions.

The automotive sector contributes about 7.1% to India's gross domestic product, and the latest Automotive Mission Plan for the decade 2016-26 projects this figure to increase to 12%. It means that the automotive industry, which is now worth 8 billion, will be worth 0 billion by 2026, making it the third largest automotive market in the world by volume. In FY2021, India produced 22.7 million vehicles, mostly two-wheelers, of which 4.1 million were for export. It currently employs 8 million workers directly and 37 million indirectly. This figure is expected to rise to 100 million by 2026. The main automobile production centres are located in Haryana, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. "It is probably no mere coincidence that these four are also among the richest states in India," Sii concludes in its report.


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