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Economy, Labor

cottage industries, Indian economy, child labor, Labor unions, harvest time

The Indian economy employs 451 million people. The majority of this workforce—67 percent—labors in the agricultural sector. Of the remainder, 20 percent work in services and 13 percent in industry. Women make up 32 percent of the total labor force.

Significant numbers of children are employed in India. They not only perform agricultural tasks such as herding and helping at harvest time, but they also work in cottage industries such as carpet weaving and match manufacturing, help in small businesses such as tea stalls, and act as servants in private homes. Estimates of the number of working children varied widely in 1995, from 14 million to 115 million. This large range in estimates is due in part to a lack of formal government data on child labor. Child labor is illegal in India, and efforts have been made to abolish it, particularly in the most hazardous industries.

Unemployment rates in India are difficult to estimate because many people work in temporary or part-time jobs. Few workers are permanently unemployed, but seasonally or marginally employed people such as agricultural laborers are often underemployed. State and national governments have established fairly successful rural employment plans that hire labor to build roads and other public works.

Labor unions are relatively small in India and operate primarily in public-sector enterprises. India’s labor laws allow multiple union representation not only within an industry but even within a factory. Laws also tend to favor workers’ rights over employer prerogatives. As a result there is an increasing trend in business to hire workers on daily contracts. Older unions are linked to national trade union federations controlled by political parties. Since the 1980s, however, there has been an increase in independent unions unrelated to political parties. Some successful small-industry entrepreneurs have organized cooperatives. A notable one is the Self-Employed Women’s Association, which has spread from its base in Ahmadabad to other cities.



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