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Meet the workers powering India’s labor market

Victoria Craig May 14, 2019
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An Indian vendor roasts peanuts at a roadside stall in Amritsar in 2018.
Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images

Pots and pans clanging together as a woman begins cooking breakfast. The whirr of a tailor’s sewing machine. Plastic bottles hitting cardboard boxes as a man sorts trash from recycling.

These are the sights and sounds of workers carrying out their daily duties in India’s informal jobs market.

Roughly 80% of the country’s economy is made up of workers who don’t have contracts, employment benefits or Social Security.

That’s due in part to a booming population coming of age: Roughly 1 million new job seekers come into the country’s workforce each month, putting strain on an economy that is in dire need of job creation despite an annual growth rate of 6.5%.

The average wage for workers in the casual-employment sector was around $2.50 a day as of 2012, according to the most recent data collected by the International Labor Organization.

Here are some of their stories:

Sumil Kumar, 20

Photo: BBC

Occupation: Tailor

How long: Four years

Earnings per month: $127

Who relies on your income? Just me

I have completed A levels. I never wanted to do this. I had a shop of my own selling bitter leaves. But then I learned tailoring. I always wanted to be a painter, but I didn’t have the resources. So now I’m doing this. If I had the opportunity to learn painting, I would.

Pushpa, 38

Photo: BBC

Occupation: Irons clothes

How long: 20 years

Earnings per month: $60

Who relies on your income? Five children from 8 years old to 18; her husband also works as a joint owner.

First thing in the morning, I collect clothes from people’s homes. Then I sort them and then press them. I give them back by afternoon. I work 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Shiraz Ul Haq

Photo: BBC

Occupation: Garbage collector

Monthly earnings: $100 from a neighborhood society

Who relies on your income? Wife, who works as a maid, and two daughters, ages 14 and 17.

I’ve never been to school. I am a migrant worker and support my children back in my village who I see once a year. So I come in the morning, collect garbage from people’s homes. Then I sort it and sell it off.

Alpana Maiti, 32

Photo: BBC

Occupation: Cook

How long: 11 years

Monthly earnings: $213

Who relies on your income? I have a husband and one child.

This is not what I wanted to do. I wanted to study but couldn’t afford it. I send money back to Calcutta to my family. My son lives in Delhi with me and is going to school and learning English.