ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Work Conditions and Employment for Women in Slums

A Case Study of Bhuj City, Kutch

Indranil De (, Mukul Kumar ( and H S Shylendra ( teach at the Institute of Rural Management, Anand, Gujarat.

Women residing in slums and slum-like settlements of Bhuj are majorly employed in traditional activities such as bandhani, embroidery, fall beading, etc, and only to a much lesser extent in emerging opportunities, including non-farm casual labour and jobs in the private and public sectors. Women’s preference is overwhelmingly tilted towards the former employment opportunities as compared to the latter, due to flexibility of work and possibility of working from home, given certain sociocultural constraints and poor working conditions in other sectors. Moreover, limited access to capital for women’s own enterprises ensures that the chances for expansion and formalisation of their small enterprises are minimal.

The authors would like to thank all staff members of the Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan and Sakhi Sangini for data collection, as also Shouryamoy Das for data collection and coordination. They would like to especially acknowledge Alka Jani of KMVS for funding and providing support for the study. Last but not the least, they would like to thank the anonymous referee for comments and suggestions.

Workers and entrepreneurs not recognised or protected under legal or regulatory frameworks, and characterised by high degree of vulnerability are considered as informal (ILO 2002). The International Labour Organization looks at the informal economy as one characterised by “decent work deficit.”

Poor-quality, unproductive and unremunerative jobs that are not recognised or protected by law, the absence of rights at work, inadequate social protection, and the lack of representation and voice are most pronounced in the informal economy, especially at the bottom end among women and young workers. (ILO 2002: 4)

Informal employment is understood on the basis of a number of criteria, such as conditions of employment, including terms of the job contract, availability of a written contract, mode and periodicity of wage payments, eligibility for paid leave and various social security provisions, and the number of hours of work (Rustagi 2015). Informal jobs may be with formal public and private enterprises, and with informal enterprises which are private unincorporated enterprises that are unregistered and small in terms of the number of employed persons (Williams 2017). Worldwide, during the past few decades, economies are moving in different directions with regard to the trajectories of informality (Schneider 2015; Williams 2007; Williams and Schneider 2016). India stands second with respect to the degree of informalisation, with around 84% non-agricultural workers having their main occupations in the informal economy, and stands seventh with regard to the intensity of informalisation, with 79% informal jobs with informal enterprises (Williams 2017).

In a neo-liberal environment, the government has retreated from its role as a provider of decent work, which is getting reflected in two ways, that is, the informalisation within public/ government sector and the loose implementation of labour laws and various welfare provisions for labour (Remesh 2017). The informalisation of the public sector is happening through the growth of temporary work in the government sector and the outsourcing of jobs. The temporary jobs offered by the government are devoid of any social security benefits, leaves and perks, which are normally offered to permanent employees. In the case of outsourced jobs offered by the government, though people physically remain linked to the government sector, they are recruited and paid by the private sector. The workers in outsourced jobs are exploited in many ways, such as exorbitant charges for registration, periodic renewals, absence of written contract, irregularity and delays in payment, low payment, longer work hours, etc (Remesh 2017).

Due to laxity in implementing labour laws and standards, people often work for less than the minimum wages and in dismal work conditions. State government laws enable firms employing up to 300 workers to retrench without prior approval. Outsourced public sector employment creates another round of private informal employment. The privatisation of waste collection may be considered as a case in point. A case study in a small town in southern India reveals that outsourcing and privatisation have brought down wages by one-third, along with very unhealthy work conditions (Harriss-White 2017). As a result of a decline in wages, workers need to work in the informal sector to supplement their income. The unhealthy work conditions and stigma attached to the profession leave people at the margins, especially those belonging to weaker sections, to take up some of these occupations.

Women’s Participation in the Workforce

A significant proportion of working women are in the informal sector. Around 82% of total employment and 55% of non-agricultural employment are in the informal sector for women (ILO 2018). Trade liberalisation in India in the 1990s led to a decline in employment opportunities, coupled with the casualisation and feminisation of the workforce (Jhabvala and Sinha 2002). Casualisation led to the substitution of better-paid and more secured male workers, with low-paid and more insecure female workers. Subcontracting of work in the manufacturing sector gave rise to home-based female workers. Many women could not cope up with the increased demand for skills in a liberalised environment. The social security measures of newly created employment opportunities were inadequate and abysmal.

On the basis of their study of female employment intensity in India’s manufacturing industries during 1998–2011, P Banerjee and C Veeramani (2017) foster a view that firms when exposed to international competition reduce costs by substituting male with female workers. However, trade liberalisation has reduced women’s employment due to the advent of newer technologies in manufacturing. The falling international demand for labour-intensive products has led to a decline in women’s participation in the formal workforce (Mehrotra and Sinha 2017). On the other hand, the employment of women increased in the construction sector, even before trade liberalisation began. Between 1971 and 1981, the workforce in the construction sector increased, both in terms of relative share and absolute numbers, concomitant with the increase in the proportion of females in the construction workforce (Mitra and Mukhopadhyay 1989).

Due to lack of skills, women workers have been subject to intense insecurity. An analysis of national data of a cross-section of developing countries illustrates that women are disproportionately present in the informal sector with low wages, when compared to the formal sector (Chen et al 2006). Furthermore, the presence of women as informal employers and regular informal wage labour is low, while they are more likely to be industrial outworkers with higher poverty risk. The average earnings are lower and poverty risks are higher for women as compared to men in the informal sector (Chen et al 2006).

On the other hand, female labour force participation (FLFP) amongst married women in the age group 25–54 declined in India from 18.5% in 1987 to 17.9% in 2011, despite impressive economic growth (Klasen and Pieters 2015). Moreover, FLFP was lowest in 2009–10 since 1993–94, in both rural and urban areas (Chowdhury 2011). Education and rising income levels have had a negative impact on FLFP. In urban India, FLFP was depressed at the middle level of education, with reduced effect of secondary and graduate education during 1987–2011 (Klasen and Pieters 2015). FLFP also declined due to rising male incomes and education. Moreover, the growth of manufacturing and white-collar services has not been sufficient for absorbing female working-age population, when most employment growth occurred in the construction and low-skilled services, which women prefer less.

A similar scenario has been observed in rural India. Increasing education of women and men accounted for at least 8% and 16% decline in FLFP between 1999 and 2011, and 70%–84% between 1987 and 1999 (Afridi et al 2018). The fall in FLFP during these three decades happened concomitant to women’s engagement in domestic, non-remunerative activities.

P Dasgupta and B Goldar (2006) found that there is a significant negative relation between the wage rate and FLFP for below poverty line (BPL) households, though no significant relationship was observed for above poverty line (APL) households. The number of earning members in a household has a negative impact on FLFP in both BPL and APL households. Education has no significant impact on FLFP. The above-mentioned studies indicate that a preference of women for working and the sector of work is crucial in determining the FLFP. Household income or earning members play an important role in determining this preference. Not many studies have made attempts to examine the factors that influence the participation of women in informal sector employment and the kind of work conditions that prevail for them when they decide to participate in the employment market. A study focusing on such issues can make a useful contribution to the discourse.

In this context, this article is an attempt to mainly look into the work conditions of female workers employed in an array of informal activities in Bhuj, a small city in the western part of India. Bhuj is the district administrative headquarters of Kutch district. This district has a fairly high level of urban population, which accounted for 34.72% of the total district population in 2011. The rate of urbanisation was much higher for Kutch (4.33%), as compared to Gujarat (3.11%) during 2001–11 (Mahadevia 2014). According to Census 2011, the percentage of male and female workers in Bhuj was 59% and 13% respectively. Only 17% of total workers in Bhuj were female. While female workers accounted for only 13% of main workers in Bhuj, the same accounted for a much higher 43% of marginal workers. The literacy rate of male population was 80%, while it was at 72% for females (Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner 2011). This article compares and contrasts the work conditions of women in traditional informal activities, with relation to other emerging forms of informal employment in private sector enterprises and the subcontracted public sector.


The study objectives were sought to be achieved both through the use of qualitative and quantitative data. In all, a total of 926 households were surveyed for the study. The sample households have been selected from 14 different wards of Bhuj. The households were selected through a combination of cluster and random sampling. The slums and slum-like areas of Bhuj city were identified for the study according to a set of parameters which were as follows: (i) low-income areas, where household incomes were less than ₹ 10,000 per month. The households of these areas were mostly engaged in unorganised activities, and are not protected by government laws or regulations. (ii) Negligible public infrastructure: areas where there was an absence of public infrastructure, such as healthcare centres, anganwadis, schools and roads and areas where public infrastructures existed but were in poor working conditions were also selected. (iii) Residents with no land rights: areas where the residents did not have land rights were also considered to be slums. (iv) Not notified by the urban local body (ULB): areas in the city that were not notified by the municipality.

A total of 75 slums or slum-like areas were randomly selected from an identified set of slums. The age of the slums ranges from 10 to 150 years, with an average age of around 51 years. While a questionnaire was canvassed for collection of household data, for the qualitative aspects, a total of 11 focus group discussions (FGDs) were conducted with women workers from different occupations. More than 125 women participated in these FGDs. The participants included bandhani (traditional tie-dye occupation) workers, factory workers, domestic maids, ragpickers, catering workers and women engaged in stitching. A few women not in the workforce were also a part of some of these FGDs.

The results of the sample survey of households and FGDs are discussed in the following sections. The main analysis is preceded by an examination of the residential status and housing conditions, including ownership status and quality, for the sample households. In terms of main analysis, the article has focused on the occupations of women, their socio-economic profiles and work conditions. More specifically under these themes, we have tried to cover and discuss issues like types of occupations, alternative work opportunities, education, age, household income, training and skills, workplace and ownership, work availability, periodicity of payment, basic amenities in workplace, job contract, leave and social security.

Residential Status and Primary Occupations

Kutch was one of the potential destinations after the partition of British India. Both Hindus and Muslims from present-day Pakistan migrated to the region. However, the inflow was much lesser as compared to other parts of India (Bharadwaj et al 2008). The migration after partition led to informal settlements in many parts of India (Prakash 2011; Schenk 2010; Kundu 2003). Our results demonstrate that the residents of the slums in Bhuj have lived in the city for varied durations. Around 44% of the residents have been staying in Bhuj for less than 20 years and around 80% have been staying for the last 40 years (Table 1). Only 20% residents were more than 40 years old in Bhuj.

Although 29% Scheduled Tribe (ST) households were living in Bhuj for more than 40 years, only 10% general (upper-caste) households have been staying for that long. As a substantial section of the slum households is new to the place, a majority of the houses (around 70%) are built on encroached public land, while only 17% of the houses are legally owned. Around 9% households reside in rented accommodation and 4% reside in legally disputed dwellings (Table 2). The structure of the houses is majorly semi-pukka (67%), followed by 24% pukka and 9% kuccha (weak). The ownership of dwellings is almost entirely with the male members of the households. There is no substantial difference between the households living in their own dwellings and dwellings established on encroached land, when seen from the angle of their monthly income or average years of residence (Table 2). Hence, settling on encroached land is not new and the residents are not economically worse off, as compared to households owning a house.


Traditional handicraft is one of the major occupations for women, with 27% of women surveyed engaged in bandhani and another 8% in embroidery, fall beading, tailoring and quilt making (Figure 1). Another major engagement of women is working as domestic help, an occupation in which 21% of the women are involved. Women also take up a variety of other activities, including selling and vending (11%), catering and cooking (3%), and labour (10%). Very few (less than 1%) are employed in salaried jobs in a company or a hospital or a school. It appears that women from households living in their own dwellings prefer bandhani. While a good number of women from households living both in rented accommodation or encroached land take up the job of domestic help, those living on encroached and disputed land work more as labour, than women from other categories (Table 3). As bandhani is a traditional and home-based industry, women residing in their own houses are more likely to engage in it, due to the benefits of a secure space for work and storage. For this reason alone, contractors for bandhani work also tend to engage them, rather than women from other categories.

Education, Age and Income

The working women are either illiterate (40%) or have primary education (45%), with very few having secondary education and above (15%). Educational attainment has a significant impact on the choice of profession for the women. Domestic help and bandhani are the two most prominent occupations for women of all levels of education. Illiterate women work as domestic help more than other women. Women having more education work more as bandhani workers, when compared with illiterate women. The proportion of women working as domestic helpers, labourers and vendors goes down, as their education level increases. The educational attainment of women and total income of household are found to be not related. The distribution of women across education levels (as discussed above) is almost similar across monthly household income groups of less than ₹ 5,000, ₹ 5,000–10,000, ₹ 10,000–20,000 and greater than ₹ 20,000. For the lowest income group households, the percentage of illiterate women is a little higher at 52% and the percentage of women having secondary education and above is lower at 8%. The chi-square test of association between education level and total household income groups is statistically insignificant.

Bandhani appears to be the most important occupation for adolescent girls (less than 18 years) and for women less than 40 years of age. Women above 40 get engaged more as domestic helps than in bandhani. This may have to do with less safety and security risks for women of younger age, as they operate from home. As they age, they are more open to work outside as such risks are also concomitantly less. Besides, bandhani requires better eyesight and younger women are preferred over older women in any case. Older women aged more than 60 years tend to work as domestic help more than women in any other age group. Women from households with middle level of income tend to get more engaged in bandhani, than women from lower income families, who work more as domestic help. The proportion of women working as domestic helps falls as the household income increases.

With lower household income, considerations such as social prestige of the occupation do not matter and women are allowed to work as domestic helps. In any case, working as a domestic help is better-paying than bandhani. With better household incomes, the prestige of the household becomes an important factor in taking a decision with regard to the choice of occupation. More gentrified households would be more patriarchal and there would be greater restrictions on the physical movements and interactions of women. Such households will be happy with whatever small contributions women make to the household income. Interestingly, women from all levels of household income work as labour, including as masonry workers. The percentage of women working as labour is higher for households having better income. This could be because labour is more dependable and a significant contributor to household income.

The per capita average monthly earning for women is around ₹ 4,800. The average income is highest for women working as labour, at more than ₹ 10,000 and lowest for women engaged in bandhani at around ₹ 1,500 (Table 3). Women working in catering and cooking earn around ₹ 9,500. The correlation coefficient between income of women and income of household sans income of women is only 0.40. The correlation coefficient between income of women and income of household, including income of women is only 0.61. Both these correlations are statistically significant at 1% level. It implies that the income of women does not correlate highly with household income, sans the woman’s own income. However, a woman’s income does increase total household income significantly. As women are major contributors to total household income, a household’s income is higher for women working as labour and household income is at middle level for women engaged in bandhani.

Training and Skill-formation

Women workers are in general not formally trained. Around 37% workers were self-trained, 28% inherited the skills and 11% got trained on the job. Formal vocational training from an institution or organisation was received by only 20% of the women workers. Those who received training were trained mainly for handicraft and cottage based-production (33%) and textile-related work (17%). Nine percent of the trained women went through beautician training course. Tailoring, sewing, pillow and teddy making and computer operations are amongst other types of training received by women.

The survey data reveals that 25% women engaged in bandhani received the training on textile, handicraft and cottage based-production. Thirty-three percent anganwadi workers received training in childcare and 11% in health and paramedical services. However, women did not take training for less-skilled intensive work like pottery, vegetable vending, casual labour, masonry work, cleaning, sweeping and domestic work. Eighty-one percent in domestic help, 85% in casual labour and 87% women in masonry work did not receive any training. It emerged from the discussion with women that some domestic workers showed willingness to undertake training to become better domestic workers. They asked about the possibility of turning themselves into home managers. There are also many instances of training not related to the present occupation. For example, 43% women engaged in hospitals and beauty parlours are trained in textile-related work.

Adult women have some skills of taking care of households. As part of growing up in the family they also learn skills of bandhani and embroidery. It was revealed in an FGD that quilt- making and embroidery are mostly learnt from parents, while bandhani and street vending are learnt in the neighbourhoods. In another FGD, girls reported that they learnt most skills such as cooking, cleaning and other chores as part of living with their families. As girls grow up, mothers get more time to do activities such as bandhani. Women reported that the skill of tie-dyeing was mostly learnt by women after moving to Bhuj city following their marriage. The gendered division of labour was visible as boys are not expected to do these tasks. Though tying is not done by men, it is men who control the bandhani business. It is clearly evident from the fact that women are involved in the low-end skilled activity of tying. The males of Khatri community control designing and dyeing, which are more skilled activities. Our study reveals that women in general have not taken help of any placement agency for finding work. About 97% have not registered themselves with any placement agency. Only a meagre 1% had registered with government and private agencies. Usually, these women find work through their own networks.

Alternative Work Opportunities

Women were asked about other alternative work opportunities that are available to them. This was both to explore the scope for alternative work, as well as to understand the types of jobs they want to pursue. Around 38% women said they have alternative work opportunities in different economic activities. Alternative opportunities fall as the household income rises but increase steadily as the education level of women increases (Table 4). Women aged between 18 and 40 years have maximum alternative work opportunities, if they wish to change their current occupation. Alternative work opportunities are not related to the type of house ownership.


Working from home is the dominant alternative work opportunity for 28% women (Table 5). The other major alternative work opportunities are casual labour in the private sector (19%), daily wage labour (12%) and self-employment (16%). The existing monthly income of women having alternative opportunity of working from home and as self-employed is around ₹ 4,500, which is lower than the average monthly  income of women at ₹ 4,800. The highest income is attributable to women having alternative work opportunities as service providers. Higher education opens up alternative job opportunities in the government and private sectors. In the case of women having had access to primary education, the most prominent alternate work opportunity is home-based work. Illiterate and primary-educated women see more opportunities as casual workers in the informal sector, while women with secondary and above education see more opportunities in the formal sector. One can thus see varied preferences among women with varied education levels.

Women however continue with their primary and existing occupations, mainly due to lack of alternative job opportunities and lack of flexibility elsewhere. About 29% of them do not find any alternative opportunity and 15% find the present profession to be more remunerative (Table 6). Furthermore, 25% prefer to continue with their present occupation as they are able to work from home and 14% want to continue with the same due to flexibility of work schedule. About 3% women want to stick to the present profession as they perceive other work environments to be unsafe and without amenities.

The reasons for continuing with the primary occupation vary across occupations. While 60% of women engaged in the cottage industry and 31% engaged in bandhani prefer to continue with the same profession as they are able to work from home, 67% women working in a private company, 50% working as potters and 40% working as cooks, prefer to continue with their occupation as these occupations offer better earnings. In an FGD with women, one woman mentioned that she was training young girls in stitching. Stitching provides an opportunity of working from home. Thirty-three percent cutlery sellers and 28% vendors prefer to continue with their occupations due to flexible work schedule, whereas 43% women engaged in hospital jobs, 38% of anganwadi workers and 33% engaged in laundry work prefer to continue with the profession due to the ease of accessibility of workplace. Many other women also prefer to continue with their respective occupations as there are no other options: 62% engaged in scrap dealing, 52% of sweepers and 49% of masonry workers would like to continue with the occupation due to lack of other options.

Work Conditions and Basic Facilities

Type of workplace and ownership: Around 32% women work in their own enterprises located in their own dwelling units (Table 7). This ensures flexibility for maintaining a balance between home and income-generating activities. On the whole, 42% women work in their own enterprises, irrespective of the workplace. Only 6% women work in a family member’s enterprise. A substantial 34% work in enterprises owned by employers—15% work in an employer’s dwelling unit and 19% outside the employer’s dwellings. The ownership status of dwelling units does not seem to have any impact on ownership of enterprises or workplace. The enterprises owned by women are dominantly self-proprietary (66%), while 24% are in partnership with other male members. Very few women-owned enterprises are in partnership with other women. Amongst the employer-owned enterprises, 47% are proprietary or in partnership (Table 8). Furthermore, around 41% of employers are basically households employing maid servants, caretakers, cooks, etc.

Work availability and periodicity of payment: The average number of workdays sought by women workers is around 324 days per year, of which actual workdays (or employment) available in the enterprises/activities are 277 days. The average actual workdays are further lower at 268 days per year, which amount to 17% of involuntary unemployment days per year for the workers. The average number of actual workdays is least for those who work in private companies, at 258 days per year, as compared to the other two sectors; both government and household sectors provided employment of 299 days per year. The average monthly income provided by the government is highest at around ₹ 6,000. The monthly income from private companies is lower at around ₹ 4,500, which is below the average monthly income of all women workers.

More than half of the workers do not get any regular payment. They are either paid on piece rate/assignment basis (41%) or on a daily basis (17%) (Table 9). Only 33% workers get regular monthly payment. The private companies mainly make payment on the basis of piece rate and assignment (50%) or on a daily basis (22%). Bandhani and stitching are two important examples of payment on piece rate basis. In the case of bandhani, payment is done on the delivery of work. Quilt-making is another example of payment on piece rate basis. The craft shop owners pay ₹ 150 for the making of each quilt. In the case of stitching, women earn by completing their work. However, if a woman works for six–seven hours a day, she is able to earn ₹ 3,000 per month. In a factory of the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC), women who clean grains are also paid on a piece rate basis. In the catering industry, however, payment is done on a daily basis. Eighty-seven percent of government sector workers and 79% of workers employed by households receive regular monthly payments.

Basic amenities: Access to basic amenities, including crèche and washroom, is low, even in enterprises owned by the government. Only 17% women reported having a crèche at their workplace. In workplaces where there are no crèches, women are discouraged from bringing their children. Although 79% women reported the availability of a washroom or toilet at the workplace, only 65% reported having actual access. It was revealed that 18% of the workers are not able to access the washroom or toilet in spite of its availability. Further analysis shows that access to washroom is relatively high in a private company or even households, but rather low in workplaces of the government or public sector (Table 10). The latter is more relevant for contractor-mediated works of the municipality. Health hazards due to exposure to pollutants or unhealthy work environment are perceived by 31% of women working in enterprises. Outsourced government jobs, especially the work environment for municipal waste workers, pose serious health hazards to the workers. Thirty-two percent of such workers reported potential health hazards. Equally serious is the work environment of private enterprises that has negative implications for workers’ health.

Overall, 33% women workers do not feel safe from sexual harassment in their workplace. The reasons for not feeling safe are multiple: the contractor or employer does not respect privacy, staring or giving bad looks, men drinking at the workplace and even other men visiting their homes. Women in the catering business mostly go out in groups. As women in solid waste collection come from the same caste, they are able to safeguard themselves against any sexual advances. Women engaged with the government for contractual work in the municipality and other departments also felt unsafe against sexual harassment. However, this does not hold true for women directly working with the government. From the point of safety, bandhani and stitching are found to be most suitable for women as they work out of their homes. Working from home, commuting with other workers and working with husband or other family members are common coping strategies against sexual harassment.

Availability of paid leave is very limited in private companies (14%) which generally pay on the basis of assignment or daily wage, as compared to households (49%) and government (45%), who largely make regular monthly payments. The average number of days of paid leave available or possible to manage is highest for households (13 days/year), followed by the government (11 days/year). The average number of leaves available is the least in private companies (nine days/year). In work segments such as solid waste management and catering, workers are paid wages only for the number of days they actually work. Domestic maids are sometimes allowed three days of leave in a month.

Women generally have to walk to reach their workplace, as reported by 68% respondents (Table 10). Amongst those who are employed with the private sector, 11% avail rickshaw (chakda) and 4% avail the company bus. Thirteen percent of workers employed with the government avail autorickshaws to reach their workplace. On an average, women have to travel 7 kilometres (km) if the workplace is not at home. Around 13% travel more than 15 km for work. Transportation facility is mostly available for women working in the catering business, as contractors have to drop them in case of any delay or due to an evening/night shift.

Varying Features of Work Environment

FGDs were conducted with groups of domestic maids, construction workers, factory workers and waste collectors separately to understand their work environments.

Domestic maids: Since domestic maids work at homes, the provisions for water, toilets, etc, exist. Access to such provisions however depends on the employers. Despite the availability of facilities, some women feel uncomfortable using these services. Some employers not only let them access the facilities, they also give food to their housemaids. Others are not so generous and the workers often return home to eat. Maids can be allowed leaves generally up to three days in a month. The women have not had any kind of skill training from the government, nor do their employers provide them with any other employment benefits. The domestic maids have to pay for their own medical expenses. At times, their employers agree to lend them money in case of need. As domestic workers have to take care of their own houses as well, some of them are stretched for time and sleep for only five hours in a day.

Construction workers: Women construction workers work in extremely harsh conditions. They are neither provided with any kind of safety equipment nor are any basic facilities provided. They are generally paid on a daily basis, but at times the contractor does not pay them at the end of the day and payment is made in a lump sum form, for up to a week. There are no social security benefits. The women (and the rest of the workers) sometimes do not even have a place to sit in the shade for a while. They look for shade underneath a building or wall under construction and sit under it during lunch. They are not allowed any breaks, and are usually hounded by the contractors/supervisors if found resting for too long.

Factory workers: While some of the mills have toilets and the workers are allowed to access them, there are some mills where no such facilities are available. None of the mills have a crèche. Many of the women workers are mothers with young kids. These women prefer taking the kids with them to the workplace since generally, there is no one back home to take care of them. The contractor/employer often scolds workers who bring their kids along and asks them not to bring them to work.

Waste-pickers/collectors: Women sweepers work on the streets. They largely have no access to washrooms or drinking water. Since the weather in this region is usually hot, some of them ask for water from the residents and sit in the shade for brief periods of time. Even these brief rest periods are stressful, since the supervisors are on the lookout to find and penalise those who are resting. There are no social security benefits for them and they work in two shifts. The women also have to buy their own brooms for sweeping. A broom is supplied by the contractor every three months. It runs out in a month and then the workers have to buy new ones with their own money. The women belong to the same community and geographical area, and this gives them some collective strength. They mentioned not being troubled by sexual advances, since they have brooms in their hands and work in groups.

Others: Workers in the GIDC factory, which was covered as part of the study, reported that it had a toilet and was used by them. There were however some mills that did not have toilets. As part of the catering business women mostly work as subsidiary cooks. They mostly work under sheds but usually there is little ventilation and no fire-safety arrangements. However, women are dropped home if they work in the evening shifts.

Job contract: By and large, the contracts for appointment either do not exist or are at best informal: 56% workers do not have any contract and 36% only have an oral contract (Table 11). Government or public sector provide best job contracts amongst all types of enterprises. A substantial proportion of government workers get written job contracts, either of one year or less (16%), or of more than three years (14%). The non-existence of job contracts is highest for households (59%), followed by the private sector (58%).

Social security: More than half (around 58%) of the women workers do not have any social security. Oral commitment for health and maternity is the more prevalent (17%) form of social security for women workers (Table 12). Benefits of pension, provident fund or gratuity are available only for a meagre 1% of the workers. Lack of social security is most dominant in private companies. Formal social security, such as healthcare and maternity benefits, accidental insurance and any other benefits are more available for the workers in the government or public sector (12%) than any other type of enterprises. For women workers engaged in unorganised activities, there is no social security scheme made available to them. In an FGD, some women reported knowing about the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme and the Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme. Some eligible women were also accessing it.

Higher social security in the government sector as compared to other sectors could be due to higher legal compliance. At the same time, 32% of workers in the government sector face potential health hazards. The exposure to health hazards is also high in the private sector, as reported by 29% of the workers. Nevertheless, there is hardly any social security coverage in the private sector. The general symptoms of health hazards include pain in different body parts, including eyes, back, waist, hand, foot and head. Women have to carry heavy loads and there are chances of goods falling on them. There is also the fear of accidents while working on roads.

Discussion and Conclusions

We have explored the types of employment and work conditions of women from slums and slum-like areas in Bhuj. Two types of employment opportunity have emerged out of our study. One is the traditional forms of employment comprising of bandhani, embroidery, fall beading, tailoring, quilt making, and working as domestic helps. The other is the emerging employment category comprising casual labour (especially in construction work), cooking, catering and miscellaneous jobs in private and public sector enterprises. The latter type of jobs in private and public sectors are characterised by dispersed or decentralised production/employment structure, but mostly with highly informal arrangements. These outsourced or subcontracted jobs are created as cost-cutting measures under conditions of extreme competition.

More and more firms, instead of using a fulltime, regular workforce based in a single, large registered factory or workplace, are decentralising production and reorganising work by forming more flexible and specialised production units, some of which remain unregistered and informal. (ILO 2002: 2)

However, the sheer numbers reveal that the majority of women are in still in traditional employment, rather than under emerging opportunities. Home-based bandhani alone accounts for 27%, with domestic help accounting for another 21%. This implies that given varied imperatives, majority of working women are in favour of traditional forms of employment as against newer opportunities.

The reasons for preference towards traditional work opportunities are very obvious. Work opportunities of these kinds, though they meet minimum requirements of income only to some extent, offer more flexibility, like the possibility of working from home. This is very important as women have to manage household chores and at times there are sociocultural hindrances against the movement of women. Around 14% highlighted the flexibility of work schedule and another 25% identified the possibility of working from home as the reasons for continuing with the present type of employment. Hence, the very nature of informal employment, that is, flexibility, has emerged as a prominent factor influencing the preferred characteristic of employment opportunity for women hailing from disadvantaged areas like slums.

The women’s choice of work does not depend on income. Even with slightly higher level of education, women prefer not to participate in the workforce in emerging sectors. The earnings from bandhani are one of the lowest, but women engaged in this work are relatively more educated. Besides, they reside in their own dwellings. Women working as domestic helps are least educated, but their earnings are relatively better. The earnings of women are one of the highest in labour work, including construction. These women are much less educated as compared to the women working in bandhani and as domestic helps. This implies that non-economic factors apparently play an important role in the choice of work. The alternative work opportunities increase with the education level of women, more so for better educated women in the government and private sector organisations (read formal sector).

The pathetic work conditions of subcontracted public and private sector jobs could be one of the important reasons for the preference against emerging employment opportunities. In private companies, more than half of the women do not have any job contract. The preference against emerging opportunities is in spite of the fact that the income from employment opportunities in working from home or as self-employed opportunities is lower than average. The work conditions and social security appear to be relatively better for domestic helps, albeit social security commitments are oral, depending on the employers’ wish.

Finally, skill formation for the workforce is very minimally done except for bandhani, embroidery and other related works. The existing social arrangement enables young girls to be trained at home to take up professions which can be continued from home. Hence, a skilled workforce is more present in the traditional employment avenues, helping to cope with some of the vulnerabilities. However, overall, the women from slums with varied compulsions serve as a cheap source of labour for a variety of employers, both in the public and private sector, but more so under emerging conditions of extreme competition, combined with abysmal compliance with labour laws. The insights of work conditions and the diverse preferences of women from the study partly also explain the lower and declining work participation rates among women.

In terms of policy implications, while labour laws need to recognise the rights of workers under newer systems like outsourcing and subcontracting, other informal sector workers need a variety of support systems to enhance their earnings and livelihood opportunities. The traditional opportunities such as bandhani, stitching and embroidery can be made more productive with better returns, by making the whole process accessible to women, which at present is separated between female workers and male aggregators who make the forward linkages in the process. R Khasnabis and P Nag (2001) have found that the separation of processes between producer and lender cum aggregator has led to the deskilling of producers in the informal handloom weaving sector in West Bengal. Informalisation persists due to relations of dependency and a lack of resources of producers and lack of incentives of capitalists in the formal sector, to undertake technological change
which may eventually brush away subcontracting (Basole and Basu 2011).

Capital mobility between formal and informal sector may help in this regard; evidences illustrate that inter-sectoral mobility of capital improves informal wages (Marjit and Kar 2009). Our analysis reveals that women from traditional employment lack access to capital. Though about 42% women work in their own enterprises, this does not mean that they have any claim to substantial ownership of capital to increase their scale of operations. Their ability to convert these enterprises into more viable and remunerative entities by infusion of capital and skills is limited. H de Soto’s (1989) vision to move the informal sector towards a more robust, formal and integrated economy is less of a possibility considering these women-owned enterprises are lacking necessary capital and are not integrated well into the formal sector.


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Updated On : 24th May, 2019


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