India’s Rural Poor May Miss Green Jobs Boom. How To Avoid That
India’s clean-energy push to triple renewables over the next five years can generate 330,000 jobs, as IndiaSpend reported in August 2017. But can these renewable energy jobs help alleviate poverty in India, especially in its rural pockets?
Only if the renewables sector can offer permanent jobs with stability and other benefits to contractual employees expected to form around 80% of its workforce, said a report by the World Resources Initiative (WRI), a think tank. To ensure that this jobs boom is inclusive, the sector must train unskilled and semi-skilled workers from rural India. It also needs to include women workers.
There are reasons for the fear that the impending job boom will leave the poor behind: In 2016, India’s clean-energy sector employed 385,000 workers but mostly on contract.
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government has committed to the Paris Climate Agreement 2015 to install 175 gigawatt (GW) of renewable power capacity by 2022. This is enough to power 100 million bulbs (at 100 Watt each) and reduce India’s dependence on carbon-emitting fossil fuels.
Of the total target, 100 GW will come from solar power and 60 GW from wind power. The country has installed 58 GW renewable power capacity as of August 2017. This upsurge can provide India’s rural poor an alternative to subsistence farming, said the WRI report.
The Narendra Modi government has been facing criticism for not being able to produce enough jobs in the country. And 18 million people in India are going to be jobless by 2018, according to an estimate by the International Labor Organization. The clean energy sector could be one of the solutions to the problem.
“But unless decision-makers act, this growth will leave the rural poor behind, unable to attain the thousands of new jobs created,” said Bharath Jairaj, director of WRI India’s energy programme and lead author of the report, in the statement. “Now is the time for leaders in business and government to build a clean energy sector that delivers electricity and employment to poor communities across India.”
Most renewable energy jobs are contractual, with no benefits or stability
The WRI approached policy makers, independent power producers (IPP), off-grid enterprises and current employees for insights on how green jobs can optimise poverty alleviation. There are four proxy measures of a good job, as per the study: Reliability of income, healthcare benefits, employee safety policies, and training and capacity building opportunities.
These benefits are most likely to help rural workers improve their economic condition, said the study.
The WRI found that most jobs in the sector are contractual and do not offer benefits or stability. The permanent jobs had the potential to reduce poverty but needed a lot more to make them good jobs that offered opportunities for an individual’s well-being and development.
For instance, the off-grid enterprises interviewed directly deposit the monthly salaries of permanent employees into bank accounts. However, IPPs use cheques and cash to pay their workers. They channel their payments through contractors. Daily wage labourers working on the site usually get paid in cash.
“Having a direct-deposit bank account gives their holders access to bank loans, which rural people use to cover expenses related to illness, weddings, and the purchase of household items,” the report said.
All enterprises the WRI interviewed provide employees’ state insurance (ESI) to permanent employees who earn less than Rs 15,000 per month. Mandated by a law, the ESI is a social insurance scheme that protects the interest of workers in contingencies such as sickness, maternity, temporary or permanent physical disablement, death due to employment injury resulting in loss of wages or earning capacity. (Some offer coverage for on-site accidents and access to some healthcare facilities including financial support and annual health check-ups.)
But this was not the case with IPPs and project developers interviewed, said the WRI study. They “did not provide healthcare benefits to people working for a short period during project execution”, as per the report. Short-term contractual workers form a almost 80% of the total workforce engaged in the clean energy sector.
On-the-job skill development opportunities can help the unskilled and semi-skilled workers in the field secure formal and long-term contracts for the operation and maintenance of plants. Currently, there are few of these, compared to those being created for construction, found the study.
Renewable energy sector jobs, both direct and indirect, in India form 4.6% of the global total, IndiaSpend reported in August 2017.
Training institutions are inadequate: Green sector employers
Renewable energy employers interviewed for the study said that unskilled workers lacked the technical and soft skills needed for full-time positions. But most training institutes refuse to admit applicants without a secondary school education, locking out 60% of poor Indians who are either illiterate or have only completed primary school.
Many training programmes are run in urban centers which makes it difficult for the rural poor workers to enroll. Women workers face additional gendered challenges, according to the study. Housework, childcare and gender norms make it nearly impossible for them to participate in training programmes, it said.
Even if poor rural workers manage to complete existing training programmes, they are unlikely to get jobs. “The institutes’ curricula don’t often align with industry needs, making it difficult for graduates to secure good-quality jobs,” Pamli Deka, the manager of WRI’s electricity governance initiative and co-author of the report, said in a statement. The study found that many clean energy employers preferred to train their new employees because they found training institutions unable to do so satisfactorily, she said.
Private sector leaders should build capacity among unskilled and semi-skilled workers to ensure sustainability of renewable energy projects and provide opportunities to rural communities, WRI recommended.
It further suggested that the government officials should create public training programmes to prepare the poor and less educated people— especially semi-skilled and unskilled--for employment in the clean-energy sector.
Nearly 240 million Indians lack basic electricity services. Apart from creating new jobs, India’s clean energy push can improve energy access in India’s poorest rural communities. This will allow children more time to study after school, bring in greater productivity and income for families, and improve health outcomes, according to the report.
(Tripathi is a principal correspondent with IndiaSpend.)
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