One of the turning points in India's recent trajectory has been the liberalization of the Indian economy in response to neoliberal compulsions, which thrives on free-market regime and involves the encounter of the local with the global capital (Ramaswamy 1999; Stiglitz 2004). Briefly, the change has been from an earlier state-controlled and relatively more job-secure environment to a gradual withdrawal of the state-controlled regulationist market, which also ‘absolved the employers the responsibility of providing benefits, which usually came with tenured jobs’ (Sen and Dasgupta 2009 xiii; Corbridge and Harriss 2000). The ensuing change in the process of production — from assembly-line Fordist model to a more flexible post-Fordist regime — has also brought in with it contractual and flexible labour, particularly in the manufacturing sector in the post-1980 globalizing phase. Although it would be rather erroneous to suggest that the pre-reform period was characterized by secure jobs, the recent decades have witnessed a more insecure employment scenario. As per the National Sample Survey estimates, the share of workers in the total organized manufacturing sector was 26.47 per cent in 2010–11 compared with 15.7 per cent in 2000–01. However, this increase has largely been attributed to the substitution of directly employed workers with contractual workers (Kapoor 2014).
Earlier, it was the public sector including government, quasi-government and local bodies that was the main employer of labour in the organized sector. However, over the years, its share has been declining because of disinvesting policies that accompany the changing role of the state. A concomitant shift to the privatization of industrial production (with its emphasis on cost cutting and profit maximization) has also been responsible for the enhanced employment for women. According to one estimate, although the increase in the absolute number of women workers was almost the same in the public and private sectors in the recent past, the increase of women in the private sector has been nearly double (Khandelwal 2004). This is despite the fact that the overall employment of women workers in India has always been comparably lower than that of other countries in the region, such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka (Maringanti 2008; Banerjee-Guha 2009).
In general, the increase in urban women's workforce participation has invoked contested and often contradictory debates on ‘feminization of labour’ as well as on informalization of labour.
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