An Open-Ended, Expanded Employment Guarantee at Minimum Wages should be its Centrepiece


  • There are no labour-day rallies, celebrations or meetings this year as everyone is under Lockdown, Fighting the Coronavirus through Physical Distancing.

Brief Background:

  • The world has been turned upside down due to the global pandemic.
  • Worse, however, for the millions of workers in India, was them being forced to stay in camps or cramped accommodation, foregoing the comfort of family, food, and mental peace.
  • A minimal level of livelihood security will have to be guaranteed to labour, farmers and workers in the informal sector to avoid impoverishment and insecurity that has afflicted these workers.
  • The Solution Lies in Assuring all Indians a Measure of livelihood and Income Security

Employment Guarantee Act:

  • There is no alternative to ensuring a regular cash flow to all those affected. Payment of part of the wages in subsidised foodgrain would be ideal for the 94 per cent of our workforce in the informal sector
  • It would provide work with dignity, and perhaps be the most inexpensive way to rebuild a shattered economy
  • The existing entitlements under MGNREGA need to be taken seriously. Work must be “guaranteed” on demand
  • The Act even makes a provision for unemployment allowance, when the state cannot provide work.
  • MGNREGA has helped build rural infrastructure through approximately 10 crore families
  • But because of the superimposed resource constraints, many could not access the entitled 100 days of work. Migrant workers coming back home will swell the already desperate demand for work
  • The government has existing provisions for expanding MGNREGA work by another 50 days in situations of any calamity
  • The expansion of the Employment Guarantee Act must, therefore, be effective and open-ended.
  • The 100 days per family must expand to allow access to any adult seeking any number of days of work during the period of recovery from the COVID crisis.
  • The shock of the lockdown, and the loss of employment will be countered only with Guaranteed Tenure and Security of Income.
  • Apart from the regular public works which must continue with sufficient safety measures, home-based activities must be permitted in the expanded employment guarantee programme
  • Following Kerala’s success, panchayats and local government units should be empowered and involved in dealing with this epidemic
  • This would also include providing resources and flexibility via a workforce paid through the expanded employment guarantee programme to address the manifold challenges of COVID-19
  • The US – New Deal:
  • To address the financial crisis brought on by the Great Depression, government announced “New Deal” to fight the great depression with hope and solidarity and “cooperation” rather than “competition”
  • The centrepiece was a massive public works programme offering work at minimum wages to anyone who Sought Work
  • It not only helped build some of America’s great highways but also paid accomplished but impoverished artists for doing artwork in public places


India urgently needs a New Deal of its own. An open-ended, creative, expanded employment guarantee at minimum wages, could be a centrepiece of that New Deal.

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