Advancing Long-term Supports for Workers: Connecting India’s Weavers with Social Security Benefits

Label STEP enacts its holistic, solutions-based approach to fair trade through the promotion of social security benefits for the artisans of India. According to a 2021 report by the International Labour Organization, “only 47 per cent of the global population are effectively covered by at least one social protection benefit, while 4.1 billion people (53 percent) obtain no income security at all from their national social protection system.” Through advocacy and outreach, our local teams have helped to extend social security schemes to informal workers such as weavers – helping to forge a path towards their greater socio-economic empowerment. 

Social Security Benefits for Contract Workers in India

The financial security of any worker, in any profession, comes down to so much more than their base income. Considerations of retirement, sudden disability or medical conditions, or loss of life are essential to ensuring a more holistic welfare of an individual and those who are dependent on them. These types of insurances are often covered by social security schemes; however, ready access to them varies greatly country-to-country and job-to-job. Among the countries where STEP works, no two are exactly alike in terms of how social security is managed for weavers, an employment type that is often categorized as part of an “informal” or contract-based sector. 

In India, carpet weaving is predominantly a piece-rated activity, and the majority of the workforce is engaged in contractual working relationships. The country’s weavers have thus historically lacked the built-in safety nets provided by formal employment and had few pathways to accessing or arranging these types of protections for themselves. STEP’s local team identified a need to help fill in some of these gaps and began advocating for the inclusion of weavers in essential social security schemes through extensive dialogue with stakeholders spanning exporters, industry associations, government bodies, and other artisan-focused organizations. This advocacy even led to a meeting in 2018 with the state of Uttar Pradesh’s then Minister of Labour & Employment, Swami Prasad Maurya.

 Bridging the Information Gap

The status quo began to shift in late 2020, when the Indian government announced a scheme under the Social Security Board to extend social security benefits to all unorganized sector workers. Weavers, as well as other informal workers, would now not only have access to programs including Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojna (PMJJBY), Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojna (PMSBY), and Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Mandhan Yojna (PM-SYM) – which cover life and accident insurance, disability, and pension – they would also be able to enroll in e-Shram, the first-ever national database of unorganized workers, including migrant workers. These supports came at a critical moment, when unorganized contract workers were among the most vulnerable to the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the programs themselves offered weavers many previously inaccessible benefits, the onus of identifying and enrolling for these programs remained with the weavers – leaving a disconnect between availability and actualization. STEP mobilized to counter this disconnect and ensure weavers were informed and empowered to avail themselves of these benefits. Our multifaceted strategy, which has continued to evolve and expand in the years since the launch of this government program, involves awareness sessions during audits, the provision of awareness camps, and the facilitation of registrations through village-level Common Service Centres. To support these efforts, STEP produced informational films on the topic of e-Shram registration and regularly facilitates distribution of printed registration cards.

STEP’s social security awareness camps alone have directly resulted in the direct enrolment of over 130 weavers in social security schemes, with many more benefiting from word-of-mouth endorsements and broader awareness initiatives. The widespread popularity of the e-Shram program among informal workers continues to grow, with a current total of over 83 million individuals enrolled, emphasizing the sizable gap that these schemes are helping to close.

Forging a Path to Greater Socio-economic Empowerment

Looking ahead, Label STEP remains committed to advancing the cause of weavers’ social security. By continuing to engage weavers, providing feedback on scheme performance, STEP hopes to learn more about the lived reality of these schemes in order to provide feedback to State-level officials on how they can grow and improve. Our team is also committed to mobilizing professional institutions in the sector, such as the Indian Institute of Carpet Technology and the Carpet Export Promotion Council, to actively participate in the awareness generation movement so as to amplify the impact of its initiatives and create a more resilient and empowered weaving community.

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