Rostrum’s Law Review | ISSN: 2321-3787



India is a vast country, with huge diversity. Its economy has come a long way in terms of economic growth and development. India has emerged as top economies in the world. It has a huge working population of 406 million ( based on NSSO Survey of 1990-2000). It is astonishing that almost 92% of this workforce is unorganised workers in unorganised sectors. These workers play a vital role in Indian economy.

Unorganised workers are those workers who are either home based workers like domestic servants ; agricultural workers ; bonded labourers ; construction workers ; migrant workers ; women and child labourers as well as old age workers to name a few. Such types of workers are unable to organise themselves due to various factors such as – illiteracy, ignorance, casual nature of employment and unrecogniton hence they suffer from lack of social security protection, absence of employer – employee relationships, pathetic working and living conditions. More so women and children workers are the most affected workforces amongst them.

The fundamental principle of Labour legislation is to provide protection, basic rights as well as better working conditions to the labourers or workers in the organisation and industries, however in case of unorganised workers in unorganised sectors such principles and rights are absent. The scholar attempts to study, analyse and examine the existing scenario with respect to Labour Legislations and government initiatives for unorganised workers in India.

Indian government is constantly trying its level best for the welfare and protection of such unorganised workers for which Indian parliament approved Unorganised Sector Social Security Act in 2008.  Indian Judiciary has also come forward in protecting the rights of unorganised workers in India through various judgments viz..

People Union for Democratic Rights VS Union of India ;

Bandhua Mukti Morcha VS Union of India ; to quote a few.

Lack of awareness, ignorance, illiteracy and  unorganisation among the unorganised workers is the reason that these workers are deprived of various schemes provided by the government. Moreover  these factors also make such workers at disadvantageous position for various benefits of such government schemes. Hence the scholar emphasises that awareness programmes, campaigning with respect to health, living and working conditions, wages, relationships between employer and employee should be done. New Laws to protect these workers and enactment of such laws should be initiated.

Every worker whether organised or unorganised needs a safe and secured environment to work which he is entitled by virtue of his or her basic human rights and which no one can deprive him or her from.

The scholar has undertaken doctrinal approach in this study and tries to emphasis that lack of awareness, ignorance, illiteracy among the unorganised workers has led to their pitiable and miserable condition and so local authorities, National Social Security Boards, NGOs and all other stakeholders should come forward for the enlightenment, education and upliftment of such unorganised workers towards various schemes, proposals and benefits initiated by the government and labour legislations – which is NEED OF THE DAY.

KEYWORDS –  Unorganised, Workers, Labourers, Labour, Legislation, Protection, Government, etc


India is a developing country and labour plays an important role in it’s economic development. Workers or labourers are classified as organised, unorganised, skilled, unskilled etc. In India the unorganised sector makes up 90%of India’s workforce and contributes to 45% of the economy. [1]

Inspite of economic development and growth in India, unorganised sector is thriving at a tremendous speed employing unorganised workers. Unorganised Workers plays a very important role in our society. They are the backbone of every industry around the globe. However it’s sad that they are the most deprived, underprivileged and disadvantageous section of the society.

Unorganised workers are basically employed by the unorganised sector in India as well as in South Asia. These workers face numerous problems relating to wages, working environment, medical facilities, social security as well as basic human needs like food and shelter.

In India itself about 44 crore people work as unorganised workers in unorganised sectors and faces difficulties in terms of employment opportunities, employer – employee relationships, no occupational safeties, absence of trade unions etc. [2]

Its also worth mentioning that such unorganised workers lives in slum areas without any proper living conditions and facilities. Moreover from street vendors, domestic workers to subsistence farmers and seasonal agriculture workers such unorganised workers also comprises of women and child labourers in unorganised sectors In South Asia over 80% of women work in these unorganised sectors. [3]

There are many statues and laws for the unorganised workers, however these workers are still deprived of these benefits including social security benefits.

Social Security is very essential for the welfare of the workers. It increases the production levels of the industry and develops the feeling of surety among the workers. Moreover it also helps in eradicating poverty. Social Security is a fundamental human right and should be provided to all the citizens but it’s pity that this basic benefit is unavailable to these unorganised workers. [4]

The International Labour Conference of 2002 is crystal clear in the issues relating to the protection of informal or unorganised workers – which includes application of core labour standards, extension of Labour regulations and extension of social security.

India has also taken initiatives to change its social security code, which aims at the universalization of social security benefits to all the workers whether organised or unorganised. The Indian Parliament approved Unorganised Sector Social Security Act in 2008 for the benefit of the unorganised workers. More so Indian Judiciary has also come forward in protecting the rights of unorganized workers in India through numerous judgements.

Unorganised Sector

The term unorganised and informal sector is used interchangeably in the Indian context. The unorganised sectors are basically proprietary and partnership firms. According to National commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS), unorganised sector consists of all the unincorporated private entities with less than 10 workers, who are engaged in sale or production of goods and services.[5] The unorganised sectors or informal sectors are those businesses that are unregistered with the government and do not follow it’s guidelines and regulations.[6] These business units have fewer resources such as money, workers and infrastructure. These sectors tends to be less productive and efficient. They have smaller markets. These unorganised sectors are made up of small businesses, which can either be manufacturing businesses, service businesses or retail businesses. However majority of them are service businesses. These sectors have lower remuneration (i. e) employees are paid less. The working hours of the workers are often irregular meaning employees do not work for set hours.

Unorganised sectors have less job security and are less stable. These sectors doesn’t provide any benefits to it’s workers. We know that unorganised sectors in India are contributing towards economic growth and development but they remain unorganised due to lack of proper mechanism. Moreover labour and other legislations n India are mainly focused towards formal and organised sectors leaving this sector and it’s workers as orphans.

Unorganised Workers  And Their Problems

Section 2(m) of the Unorganised Workers Social Security Act 2008 defines the term unorganised workers. It states that unorganised workers means a home – based worker or a self-employed worker or a wage worker in the unorganised sector.[7]

Unorganised workers are people who are deprived of various benefits like pension benefits, maternity leave, provident fund, gratuity etc. They work on daily basis or hourly basis in the organisation. The size of Unorganised Workers in India is enormous. These workers work in a very unhygienic and overcrowded conditions where there is no sanitation and water facility. They live in a very congested accommodations. Their nature of work is also temporary (i. e) their job is unstable, casual and scattered. Moreover most of these workers are unaware of their occupational hazards. Most of them are illiterate. They work in extreme environment and temperature which adversely affects their health. These workers are also not adequately protected by labour laws. These workers come from a very poor economic background and are victims of ill-treatment, exploitation and deprivation. Women and children are the most affected workforces amongst them. Moreover study shows that most of the time women workers in an unorganised sectors are victims of sexual exploitation for which they cannot complaint because of their poor economic background and societal constraints. Children workers are also abused not only physically but mentally.

The Ministry of Labour, Government of India has categorized the unorganised workers into four groups viz:-

Occupation :- Occupational unorganised workers are those who are engaged in agricultural activities as small, marginal farmers, beedi rolling, labelling, packing, animal husbandry, building and construction workers etc.

Nature of employment :- In terms of nature of employment unorganised workers are those who are attached as agricultural labourers, bonded labourers, migrant workers, contact and casual workers.

Specially distressed categories :- Under this category unorganised workers are those workers who are toddy tappers, scavengers, carriers of loads by head, drivers of animal vehicles, persons engaged in loading and unloading activities.

Service categories :- The unorganised workers in terms of service categories are those labourers who are midwives, domestic workers, fishermen, women labourers, barbers, vegetable & fruit vendors, newspaper vendors etc.[8]

Challenges Faced By Unorganised Workers

We know that in India almost 90% of workforce is working in unorganised sectors. Though unorganised workers engaged in unorganised sectors contributes maximum to the economy however they faces numerous challenges. Some of the challenges can be summarized as follows:-

Job Insecurity :- Insecurity of work makes unorganised workers depend on various jobs. Moreover employment opportunities for unorganised workers is also affected by factors such as climate change, location etc. Agriculture sector for example in India is highly irregular and unassured due to non availability of work around the year, hence workers are engaged only for 3 months and are unemployed rest of the months or search for alternative jobs in order to sustain and earn their livelihood.

Minimum Wages :- Section 2(h) of Minimum Wages Act 1948 defines the term Wages, which means remuneration capable of being expressed in terms of money which would if the term of the contract of employment express or implied were fulfilled be payable to a person employed in respect of his employment. Though the Act defines the term wages, however the workers are deprived of basic minimum wages in most of the cases. The Apex Court in Peoples’ Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India held that even if poverty forces anyone to work for minimum wage, Article 23 prohibits employing workers for wages below the statutory minimum level as it results in forced labour.

Long working hours :- In India unfortunately it is a standard procedure that unorganised sectors have long working hours which violates labour and regulatory norms. For example in agriculture sector there is no fixed working hours and there is no laws to regulate these working hours. Moreover most of the workers are illiterate and are dependent on the wages given by the employer for their livelihood and hence are exploited to work for extra hours, which in turn affects their health mentally and physically.

Work hazards, occupational safety and living conditions :- In unorganised sectors unorganised workers work in dangerous working conditions. Due to this they faces numerous health issues. As they are paid less, they suffer from malnutrition, they are unable to pay their medical expenses. Worker working in factories such as firework factories, tobacco factories and matchstick factories suffer from respiratory problems and diseases. Workers engaged in agriculture sectors are affected by the excessive use of pesticides, insecticides and fertilizers which deteorates their health. Workers working in unorganised sectors live in delibidated and unsanitary conditions. They live in slums which lacks basic conditions such as clean drinking water, washing areas, toilet facilities etc.

Women and children are unprotected :- Article 39(d)of the Constitution of India provides equal pay for equal work, which means that irrespective of their sex the workers should be given equal wages. However this is not true, men workers get more wages as compare to women and children workers for their equal hours of work. Children are being forced to work in menial jobs such as dhabas, tea shops, households at low wages for long working hours, which affects their health mentally and physically. Women workforce on the other hand are also not let off from such menace of long working hours and hazardous working conditions. More so they are prone to sexual harassments and assaults at working places in unorganised sectors, which not only affect them physically and mentally but emotionally too. Moreover women and children are not aware of their rights.[9]

International Approach Towards Unorganised Sector

International Labour Organisation (ILO) is the U.N agency since 1919 is bringing governments, employers and workers of 187 members states together to set labour standards, develop policies and device programmes promoting decent work for all men and women. It binds the member states by adopting Conventions and protocols and provide Recommendations for labour welfare. Till date it has given 190 Conventions and 206 Recommendations to regulate the labour sector. The 13th International Conference on Labour Statisticians (ICLS) in 1982 initiated the consideration of informal sectors and urged the countries to develop methodologies and data collection programmes to measure informal sector activities.[10]

National Approach Towards Unorganised Sector

The Constitution of India provides a framework for the protection and welfare of Labour class. It doesn’t differentiate organised and unorganised labour force. Article 23 prohibits forced labour and Article 24 provides for a ban on child labour in hazardous occupation up to the age of 14 years. Article 39(a) provide that the state shall in particular direct it’s policy towards securing its citizens whether men or women equally have the right to an adequate means of livelihood.

Moreover based on the recommendations of National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) the government of India enacted Unorganised Workers Social Security Act 2008 to provide for the social security and welfare of Unorganised Workers. The Act has notified certain Schemes for unorganised workers in unorganised sectors. The most important provisions in the Act is relating to the process of Registration of Unorganised Workers.[11] The government of India has also formulated various policies which covers unorganised workers in unorganised sectors. Some of the polices are as follows :-

National policy on skill Development :- National Policy on skill development empowers individual to improve their knowledge and skills both nationally as well as internationally to get better job opportunities. The basic aim of the Policy is to enhance individuals employability as well as abilities in this changing environment. The policy also helps in improving productivity and standard of living of the workers. The objective of the policy is to create equal opportunities for both men and women workforce and to develop highly skilled as well as quality workers taking into account emerging market trends.

National Policy on safety, health and environment at workplace :- The basic aim of this policy is to improve safety, health and environment at workplace which in turns helps in improving productivity. The objective of this policy is to reduce work related accidents, minimising harmful diseases caused by exposure in hazardous working conditions. It’s aim is to spread awareness amongst the workers towards the safety, health and environment related issues. The policy ensures that all the workers are aware of their rights and responsibilities towards safe and healthy working conditions.

National Policy on HIV AIDS :- This policy provides guidelines to unorganised workers about the HIV AIDS infection. HIV AIDS infection affects economic growth of the country. The aim of the policy is to prevent the transmission of this disease amongst the workers and to provide access to the treatment as well as protects the rights of the affected workforce.

National child Labour Policy :- The National Child Labour Policy was enacted on 14th August 1987. Its main objective is to eliminate child labour in hazardous working sectors. The policy also focuses on the rehabilitation of children working in hazardous working areas, educating as well as raising public awareness towards elimination of child labour. [12]

Judicial Approach Towards Unorganised Sector

It’s a well-known fact that if legislature fails to implement its legislation then Judiciary comes in picture for its interpretation and protect the rights of people. Since Unorganised Workers Social Security Act 2008 fails to bring the interest of the unorganised workers to their expectations, the Indian judiciary has come to the rescue of these workers and securing their interests.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court has held the ‘ right to livelihood’ is an essential and integral component of right to life-as enshrined in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. [13]

Indian Judiciary has played an important and decisive role in respect of social security of workers. Supreme Court has been pushing the government to enable easier systems for registering unorganised workers for their benefits.

Supreme Court held that employing workers at wages below the statutory minimum wage levels is regarded as forced labour and is violation of Article 23 of the Indian Constitution. [14]

In the Landmark judgment of Bandhua Mukti Morch the Supreme Court held that the government of both Central and state level are bound to ensure observance of social welfare and labour laws enacted by the Parliament for the purpose of securing to the workmen a life of basic human dignity in compliance with the Directive Principles of State Policy. [15]

Indian Judiciary has played a vital role in the development of modern jurisprudence and has made a significant contribution towards protecting interests of weaker section of the society which can be reflected in several decisions and judgements as follows :-

In the case of Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, Dehradun v. Uttar Pradesh   the court stated that the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India also includes the right to livelihood.

In the case of People Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India  the court held that beggar is also a kind of forced labour and it is a violation of the rights to live with dignity, respect and fundamental human rights. If any person is taking the service of any labour and does not pay the minimum wages, then it is a violation of Article 23 of the Constitution of India

In the case of Neeraja Chaudhary v. State of Madhya Pradesh Justice Bhagwati held that it is not sufficient for the government to find about the existence of bonded labour, but it is also necessary that the labourers should be rehabilitated because if they are not rehabilitated then they would be driven to despair, poverty and helplessness. [16]

Social Security Measures

About half of the global workforces is working in unorganised sectors as unorganised workers. These workers face problems of low wages, bad working conditions and lack of social security. The human right to social security is rooted in Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and Article of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (1966) – which means – the right of everyone to social security including social insurance (ILO). This lack of protection is the cause of vulnerability among the workers in respect of health, income and security.[17]

Social Security is the most important and vital component for the well being of a worker, his or her family and the society at large.

Social Security is public provision for the economic security and social welfare of workmen and their families and the concept of social security has evolved from being a charity based approach to a right based approach.

The social security legislations in India emerged in the Directive Principles of State Policy as contained in the Constitution of India. The major breakthrough in this regard was the enactment of Unorganised Workers Social Security Act 2008. This legislation was brought up after large scale protest and demonstration by various organisations on behalf of the unorganised workers across the country. This Act is implemented by the Ministry of Labour and Employment workers sector. The main aim of this Act is to provide social security and welfare to unorganised workers working in unorganised sectors. The Act enlists numerous welfare schemes under which such workers can get some security and protection.[18]

Some of the salient features of the Act are as follows :-

  • Welfare Schemes for health and welfare benefits.
  • Disability cover, old age benefits as deemed fit by the government.
  • Employment injury benefits, educational schemes for children, old age pension etc.
  • The Act provides 3 tier mechanism (i. e) – National Social Security Board; State Social Security Board ; Workers Facilitation Centres.
  • As per provisions of the Act every unorganised worker should mandatorily register himself with the district administration.

Weaknesses In The Current Legislation

We know that unorganised workers working in unorganised sectors are deprived of various benefits including health benefits, good working environment, pension benefits, maternity benefits to name a few. However the most important and vital component which is missing and the unorganised workers are deprived of is social security. Hence to ensure some sort of social security government came up with the Unorganised workers Social Security Act 2008 applicable to entire India. The main aim and objective of this Act was to bring relief to the workers working in unorganised sectors and grant them protection in the eyes of Law. However the Act is subject to certain loopholes and flaws in its implementation.

Many social activist and researchers are of the opinion that state of the unorganised workers would have been different in the wake of COVID – 19 pandemic had there been proper implementation of this Act.[19]

On analysing the current Act of legislation one finds out that it lacks structure and the basic essence. The Act fails to define Social Security. The Act defines an unorganised workers – which includes ‘home based worker’ ‘self employed workers’ or ‘wage workers’. This definition leaves various sections of Unorganised Workers such as agricultural labourers, forest workers, family workers etc. The Act also defines unorganised sector as establishment that employs less than 10 workers which is unreasonable and irrational.

Another drawback of the Act is that it doesn’t recognizes forming labour unions, that is the right to organise. The Act is mute o ‘minimum wages’ that is if minimum wages are not clearly stated and reviewed from time to time then the entire concept of social security is futile.

The Act also unreasonably distinguishes between Below Poverty line (BPL) unorganised workers and non BPL category in respect of welfare scheme.[20]

The most regretting is that protection from sexual harassment at work place and decent working conditions for women have been excluded from the purview of the Act ( Vishaka & Ors v. State of Rajasthan & Ors AIR1997 SC 3011).

The Act also fails to provide the unorganised workers justiciable social security (Justiciable rights refers to the rights of an aggrieved person to knock the doors of the Court and seek remedy in case of any dispute arises).[21]

The Act also misses the provisions relating to grievance redressal and dispute resolution which in turn brings hardship to the unorganised workers.

Suggestions And Conclusions

The plight of unorganised workers in unorganised sectors is grief-stricken and gruesome. They are caught in the web of exploitation, poverty and discrimination. Social Security which is the basic human right of every citizen should not be kept at the mercy of the government, rather it should be viewed with the lends of legal rights. Though the Unorganised workers social security Act 2008 is good and is welcomed legislation for such underprivileged section of these workers, but still it needs a lot of improvement.

Since the current legislations fails to deliver its true essence for unorganised workers working in unorganised sectors the scholar would like to suggest certain Recommendations. The definition clause of the Act should be broadened to cover all aspects of Unorganised Workers. The Act must also take into consideration the mechanism of dispute settlement. Moreover certain Penal provisions must also be included in the Act to set positive examples. The Act should also include various provisions relating to women workers problems such as sexual harassments, their health, safety and security etc.

Central and state governments authorities should undertake measure to train such workers by providing them quality training in order to improve their skills. Government should take initiatives to reform Rural development programme and improved methods of agriculture. Steps should be made to reform wages and working hours.

Awareness among the unorganised workers should be the top priority of the concerned authorities. Government should organise various campaigns to educate these workers in respect of health hazards and working environment in the industries operating in unorganised sectors. Local authorities, governments, NGOs and National Security Boards must join hands together to help, elevate, boost these sections of workers so that they are not left behind as orphans in the society, who are the basic backbone in building the strong economy of any country.

India is a signatory member of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights(UDHR) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) hence should see from the angle of basic Human rights and ensure that social security, as well as the rights of the unorganised workers are not being displaced, violated and infringed rather they are being protected.


[1] See @-http://bwpeoplebusinessworld.in/article/social-security-for-unorganised-sector-workers-and-related-issue/ 14-06-2018-151986/ by Anshul Rakesh & Utkarsha Kumar.

[2] Https:// www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-300/-protection-of-rights-of-unorganised-workers-html by Mrunalim

[3] Https:// www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/csw61/women-in-informal-economy

[4] Https://blog.ipleaders.in/unorganised-sector-rights-protection/by  Richa Goel

[5] See@-http://www.adda247.com/upsc-exam/unorganised-sector-in-india/

[6] See@-http://unacademy.com-content.

[7] See@-http://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-3001-protection-of-rights-of-unorganised-wor… By Mrunalini

[8] See@-http://www.researchgate.net/publication/367022431 by Rakesh Kumar Nagaraj dated: January 2023.

[9] See@- http://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-3001-protection-of-rights-of-unorganised-workers. By Mrunalini.

[10] See@-http://thelawbrigade.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/UNORGANISED-WORKERS. By Dr. Namrata Luhar

[11] See@-http://thelawbrigade.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/UNORGANISED-WORKERS. By Dr. Namrata Luhar

[12] See@-http://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-3001-protection-of-rights-of-unorganised-workers. By Mrunalini.

[13] Rural litigation and Entitlement Kendra, Dehradun, v. Uttar Pradesh, 1985 SCC(2)431.

[14] People’s Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India, AIR 1982 SC 1473.

[15] Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India, AIR 1984 SC802.

[16] See@-http://blog.ipleaders.in/unorganised-sector-rights-protection/ by Richa Goel /dated 9th June 2019.

[17] See@-http://www.social-protection.org/gimi/RessourcePDF.action?id=55728

[18] See@-http://lexlife.in/2020/07/10/unorganised-workers-social-security-act-2008/ by Sulekha Punyani

[19] See@-http://thewire.in/labour/national-social-security-fund-unorganised-workers. By Himanshu Upadhyay (Oct 31,2o2o)

[20] See@-http://www.jstor.com/stable/40278606 by Paromita Goswami, (2Nov,2020).

[21] See@-www.clawlegal.org/editorial/Unorganised-workers-social-security-act-2008#_ftnref12 by Nagunuri Harshita Kiran, (Nov3, 2020)

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