Country Study: India

India was the site of one of WIEGO's first two pilot law projects.  You can read more about sector-specific laws and organizing efforts on the individual pages:

Domestic Workers in India | Fish Workers in India | Forest Workers in India
Street Vendors in India | Waste Pickers in India


Majority of the workforce in India are in the informal economy, also referred to as the unorganized sector in the country. In 2004, the Government of India set up the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) to examine the issues of the informal economy. The NCEUS adopted the following definition of the "unorganized sector." "The unorganized sector consists of all unincorporated private enterprises owned by individuals or households engaged in the sale and production of goods and services operated on a proprietary or partnership basis and with less than 10 total workers."

According to data available in 2005, the unorganised sector accounted for 395 million persons or 86 per cent of the work force. Most of these workers (253 million) were engaged in agriculture and who are mainly self-employed. Together with the 29 million in unorganised employment in the formal sector, there were 422.6 million persons in the unorganised economy (sector plus employment) who comprise 92.4 per cent of the work force.

Access the overview paper on Informal Economy, Own account Workers and the Law.

The lack of a comprehensive legislation to provide for a minimum condition of work is a severe lacuna, sought to be addressed unsuccessfully over several decades. Nearly every commission set up by the Government to study the unorganised sector has recommended it. The First National Commission for Labour (1991) proposed a comprehensive legislation for agricultural workers and the Ministry of Labour drafted a bill for regulation of employment, conditions of service and for the provision of welfare measures for agricultural workers in 1997. Likewise, the Second National Commission for Labour (2002) proposed an Act to consolidate and amend the laws relating to the regulation of employment and workers' welfare in the unorganised sector in India and provided for social security cover and welfare, regulation of employment and conditions of work, as well as promotion of livelihoods. The legislation intended to cover employments, both in the agricultural and non-agricultural sectors, which were listed in the Schedule appended to the proposed Act.

More recently, the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) in a bid to extend decent work to all in the unorganised sector, recommended two comprehensive legislations for unorganised agricultural and non-agricultural workers, combining all aspects of the conditions of work, including social security. The draft bills recommended several minimum conditions of work for unorganized workers, thus prescribing minimum standards, including: (i) an eight-hour working day with at least a half-hour break, (ii) one paid day of rest per week, (iii) a statutory national minimum wage for all wage workers and home workers, (iv) penal interest on delayed payment of wages, (v) no deductions from wages in payment of fines, (vi) the right to organize, (vii) non-discrimination on the basis of sex, caste, religion, HIV/AIDs status and place of origin, (viii) adequate safety equipment at the workplace and compensation for accidents, and (ix) protection from sexual harassment, provision of childcare, and provision of basic amenities at the workplace.

Access full texts of the Comprehensive Draft Legislations.

More recently, the first step to provide comprehensive social security cover to all workers was facilitated through enacting the Unorganised Workers Social Security Act, 2008. This Act has the potential to cover all "workers" including the self employed for the purposes of ensuring access to basic social security although working hours, safety and employment relations continue to be unregulated for these workers.

Access text of the Unorganised Workers Social Security Act and Rules.