Women in an Unorganized Sector – a Case Study on Agricultural Laborers in Visakhapatnam City

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In India, Agricultural laborers are forming a major part of the country; it is the backbone of the country’s income and infrastructure. Agriculture is one of the fields which is providing the majority of the employment in the country and so the economic growth. There is a huge demand for both skilled and unskilled employees in this area. India employs a large number of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled employees due to its huge demand because of the development in the country. From the olden days women used to participate in the agricultural work. Most of the work is generally done by employing women. In present days after 1991, the introduction of LPG (Liberalization, Privatization, Globalization) many changes have occurred in the growth of women workers in the country.

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Nowadays they are getting equal challenging opportunities along with men. There is a vast scope for women in every field; simultaneously they are facing many problems at the workplace. Women workers are employed in this sector equally in both skilled and unskilled category. Women are working equally with men in the highly hazardous and risky areas, thus facing many challenges and face several issues during work. The major issues which women face during work are related to financial problems, health issues, the wage gap, gender discrimination, sexual harassment, lack of safety, no job security, poor working conditions and above all work-life balance are the major issues. The agriculture sector plays an important role in development of the rural and nation’s economy. Women agriculture laborers are socially and economically backward section of the society. The major issues faced by them are unemployment; low wages, under-nutrition, illiteracy and social backwardness constitute the poverty syndrome among agriculture laborers.

Agriculture sector as a whole had developed and emerged immensely with the infusion of science and technology. But this latest emergence is not capable of the ignorance of women labour as an integral part of this industry. In developing countries like India, agriculture continues to absorb and employ female work force but fails to give them recognition as employed or hired labour. Women constitute 38% of the agricultural labour force in developing countries. It is also estimated that 45.3% of the agricultural labour force consists of women labor. But a large number of women have remained as “invisible workers”. Since there has been concern expressed regarding the gap between women’s actual economic participation and public perception of it several researchers have attempted to overcome this invisibility through gendered empirical research studies for using on gender analysis and gender roles. There is a lot of discrimination seen in this particular sector where male workers play a very dominant role. Women workers in this sector are mostly unskilled. They are not trained and not given any chance to develop as male workers. We can say that there is no career growth for them. They join as helpers and end up their life as helpers to the male workers. Nowhere can we see females doing jobs like mason, carpenter, bar bender, plumber, fabricator, painter etc. as they are habituated and mainly allowed to do only certain kind of works which is usually assisting the male workers. Nowadays the status of Indian women has undergone considerable change.

Though Indian women are far independent and aware of their legal rights, such as the right to work, equal treatment, property and maintenance, a majority of women remain unaware of these rights. This is due to illiteracy. There are other factors that affect their quality of life such as the age of marriage, the extent of literacy, role in the family and so on. The major issue which women are facing in the present days is balancing both her personal life and career. This is even difficult for the women who are working in this field. There is no financial aid or any other schemes to support them. It is as simple as that they get money only if they go to work that day. More than two-thirds of the country’s population is dependent on agriculture. Though Green Revolution technologies enhanced agricultural productivity, along with that they also widened economic disparities and deepened gender discrimination in community life. Unlike industrial labour, agricultural labour has no particular definition.

The reason is that unless capitalism develops fully in agriculture, a separate class of workers depending completely on wages does not come up. The First Agricultural Labour Enquiry Committee (ALEC) 1950- 55 defined Agricultural Labour as “Those people who are engaged in raising crops on payment of wages” (based on occupation).That is if half or more of a household have wage employment in agriculture then those households can be termed as agricultural labour households. The Second ALEC 1956-57 enlarged the definition to include- “Those who are engaged in agriculture and other agricultural occupations like dairy farming, horticulture, raising of livestock, bee keeping, poultry etc.”(based on income).According to this definition if 50 per cent or more of its income is derived as wages for work rendered in agriculture and allied activities, then it could be classed to agricultural labour household. According to National Commission on Labour “An Agricultural labourer is one who is basically unskilled and unorganised and has little for his livelihood, other than personal labour” (Srivastava, 1993). In a city like Visakhapatnam, we can observe a lot of opportunities and cultivating land in and around the city. This is attracting workers from different areas coming to Visakhapatnam and settling here to get a job. Usually, workers are coming from surrounding areas like Vizianagaram, Srikakulam, Tuni, Kothavalasa, Rajamundry and even from other states like Orissa, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu. The several policies which are adopted by both Central and State Government for the development of agricultural laborers in Visakhapatnam are giving scope to accommodate the expanded population in the city.

The mechanization in the construction Industry leading to liberalization of the Indian economy and the use of ready mixed concrete at construction sites, women workers are majorly employed to carry the raw materials for making concrete and placing the concrete manually. This also has resulted in the declining employability opportunities of the women workers. Review of Literature: The review on the status of women workers in the agricultural field indicates that the issues and challenges relating to their work conditions are gender discrimination, Pressure and harassment at work, lack of safety and security, working conditions, Health issues, the wage gap, and Job security. The variability in labour absorption in agriculture workers is much more pronounced for women than for men. It has often been noticed that whenever there is high demand for labour in this sector, the female employment rates are much higher than that of males. On the other hand, whenever there is any shrinkage in the workforce, female workers are the one who will be removed from the workforce than compared to males.

Farid (2009) discussed the major role of women in farming & non farming activities especially in post harvest operations, homestead gardening, livestock and poultry rearing, selling labour etc. Singh and Vinay (2012) briefed in their work about the significance of female labour in agriculture and allied activities. They further stated that the role of women in agriculture as female labour is not given importance in India. Despite of their presence in activities sowing, transplanting and post harvest operations they are considered as an invisible workers. V. Vetrivel, R. Manigandan (2013) in “An empirical study of agricultural labour in India” stated that almost half of the world’s agricultural workforce comprises of women. They contribute from production to sale as well as preparation of food. Though traditionally role of women worker in agricultural was under-estimated. Women are working as paid labour or unpaid family member in agriculture in developing countries but they are still facing gender inequalities. Swamikannan and Jeyalakshmi (2015) study about women labour in Indian agricultural sector and found that female work participation rate has declined drastically during last few decades, which shows that female workers are moving from agricultural to non-agricultural activities because wage differences between male and female workers for the same type of work discourages female workers When it comes to female employment, the trends revealed by statistical interpretation are more combined. Private sector employment of women is more in the field of agriculture than the public sector. Generally, it is assumed that 50% of the agricultural workforce constitutes women.

Agricultural workforce forms the major constituent of the Indian Economy. Among them, women workers play a vital role. In the city like Visakhapatnam, which is a fast developing city there is huge scope and demand for the agricultural labour to get work. Many workers are migrating from nearby places like Vizianagaram, Srikakulam, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and many other places. Most of the women workers are unskilled and illiterate. They choose to come as helpers. The major problem is due to unawareness they are getting less pay and are highly discriminated against male workers. The working conditions are very poor which are leading to ill health. The major cause of accidents is long working hours; some occupational hazards are leading to less working hours for women. Safety at the workplace, health issues, low wages, poor working conditions are some of the problems faced by the women laborers. They are not aware of their legal rights ensured by the Government. The study intends to analyze the socio-economic condition of women workers in Visakhapatnam and a special emphasis was given on investigating work-related problems. Objective of the Study: To find out the major issues which are faced by women workers at the agricultural areas in Visakhapatnam like wage gap, gender gap, working condition, health, and safety issues.

Visakhapatnam city has witnessed tremendous growth in Agriculture sector due to the availability of sufficient water, land and the suitable climate. People are migrating from various states to Visakhapatnam. Many advances in the technology used to cultivate lands are increasing day by day. This growth has given huge demand which in turn provided employment to men and women with semi-skilled and unskilled labor opportunities. Sources of data collection and Tools used: While taking a decision regarding the method of data collection to be used for I have taken to consideration both primary data (interview method, Structural Questionnaire) and secondary data (company brochures, journals, magazines, and from other published sources and internet databases). Simple percentiles were calculated for deriving the interpretations. Sample Size: Simple random sampling has been used to collect the data from various agricultural plots in and around Visakhapatnam city. Totally 200 women workers were interviewed at the workplace. Findings and Conclusions: The interviews of women workers at construction works revealed that Most of the women constituting 68% of the total respondents have chosen this field due to financial problems at home, no other source of income in the family, to support family needs. Some of the respondents (24%) agreed that they are working to support their husband to increase their economic status. Very few (8%) of the respondents joined the work on their own choice. Due to insufficient wages majority of the workers (65%) prefer to change the work and join in maiden work, garment factory etc. Seventy-eight percent of women workers spend their money for savings and children education. Others use the income for household consumption. Major issues of women workers in Visakhapatnam It is observed that despite of their demographic profile most of them face the same problems and similar challenges of working conditions. Thus, few working conditions which are the major issues for the women workers are considered and explained.

It is found that there is a huge wage gap between men and women in the Agriculture sector. Women are given very low pay for the same work and same work time done by them along with men workers. Even though they have worked equally, men are given high wages. 78.6% of the women are not satisfied with their wages and feel that they are paid very low. Gender Discrimination: Most of the women are not giving equal opportunity to men at the workplace. They are losing their job opportunities in the agriculture field due to advancement in the technology to do the same job. This reduced the manual labour at sites. Male workers are given higher importance than female workers.

There are no proper working conditions provided in the open fields resulting in many accidents leading to injuries and even death in some cases. 93% of the respondents revealed that they are having health hazards due to exposure to untidy environment. Using chemicals in fertilizers and other products directly while spraying them on fields lead to hazardous medical issues to them. The medical first aid in times of injuries is provided only at the required times. The medical insurance is not provided to anyone.

There is no job security in this Agricultural sector. 83% of respondents revealed that they face many problems to get the job and once the work is done at the field they have to search again and work hard to get new work. There is no guaranty of work every single day. They have to search for work all time. Harassment at the workplace: Sexual Harassment is one of the major problems which most of the women workers in all fields are facing in present days. This rate is even high in this area. It is found that 38% of the respondents agreed that there is no safety in the workplace and sexual harassment exists. Majority of the women in the working sites are young in age and are forced by the male colleagues and supervisors. There is a lot of work pressure on women workers in the Agricultural fields.

Cultivation work is seasonal as the crop will be growing only certain months in an year. Once it is done, then there will not be any work for the workers until they start the next crop. This leads to financial issues and mainly making people to move from villages to cities to join in other helper jobs like servant maids, construction workers, helpers etc.

Many female unskilled workers in the rural areas are employed as agricultural laborers during the season and as soon as the season ends, they shift to the construction industry by migrating to cities like Visakhapatnam. This increases the economic status of their family. Due to the unorganized nature of the sector and insecurity in the agriculture, women as a major workforce face many issues and challenges in their working conditions. In the agriculture trade Women are almost exclusively employed as unskilled, casual, manual laborers for seed sowing. The skilled and higher paying jobs like carpentry, masonry, plumbing, electrical wiring are male-dominated and after the physical visits to many construction sites, it was found that still the women workers were engaged in the unskilled domain and being exploited in Visakhapatnam. There are a definite gender bias and sexual harassment at work of women workers in the construction industry in Visakhapatnam. There are many health hazards, social and cultural implications and lesser opportunities for these women workers due to many interventions. The researcher opine that the State government through the Department of Labour and Labour Inspectors/officers monitor the construction sites by regular visits and inspections conducted randomly to check the wage discriminations, harassment at work, health and safety conditions so that the issues of women workers at the construction sites are addressed to reduce the gender bias and equality to women workers.

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