Local governments at a loss on how to implement relief-for-work programmeFederal government last week decided to employ workers from the unorganised sector in public construction projects, but has not issued the guidelines to follow in the process.
Prithvi Man Shrestha
Thousands of people involved in the unorganised work sector have been hard hit by the coronavirus lockdown.
Many of them who were already leading a hand-to-mouth existence are now unable to provide for their families and dependent on the government's relief to feed their families.
In Kathmandu and Lalitpur, the city authorities, social organisations and local clubs have been feeding the families living in privation by organising meal centres.
Elsewhere in Bharatpur, a city in Chitwan, the poor and jobless people have also been living on relief provided by the local governments and social organisations.
The nationwide lockdown, which was enforced on March 24, has been extended till May 18.
Some economists have already warned that the situation of thousands of people who are now jobless will only get worse if the government did not come up with a plan to ease the lockdown and kickstart the coronavirus-hit economy.
But even after the lockdown is relaxed, the employment prospects of many workers seem uncertain. People who were working in hospitality and tourism sector prior to the lockdown may not be getting their jobs for instance.
In view of the imminent unemployment crisis, the federal government last week announced a relief-for-work programme. However, the concerned local governments, including the cities of Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bharatpur, are yet to come up with a plan on how the employment scheme is executed.
The three cities host a large number of unorganised sector workers. Together, they distributed relief packages to around 120,000 families in the last one month alone.
In order to include the unorganised sector workers in the relief programme as per the decision of the April 30, the Cabinet meeting, local governments say they need clear guidelines.
The decision of the federal government states that the unorganised sector workers would be mobilised in public construction works, but it has not specified how the local governments can go about implementing this decision.
“We are waiting for concrete standards from the federal government to employ jobless people,” Ishwor Man Dangol, spokesperson for Kathmandu city, told the Post.
While the city is considering employing the workers from the unorganised sector in forestry, sanitation, home wiring and construction fields, Dangols said they need federal guidelines to execute them.
The Kathmandu Metropolitan City has set up a fund of Rs100 million to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and economic relief package for the poor and the unorganised sector workers.
Officials at Lalitpur Metropolitan City have welcomed the federal government’s decision to employ the people from the unorganised sector, but they too remain undecided on how to launch the programme. They expect the federal government to come up with the guidelines.
“Probably, there will be discussion on it before the lockdown ends,” Raju Maharjan, spokesperson for the city, said.
For now, the city office has been feeding the informal sector workers, their families and other needy people through various meal centres. As an emergency relief, the city had distributed food packages to around 19,000 families in the early weeks of the lockdown.
Meanwhile, the Bharatpur city office is preparing for the second phase of relief distribution. Here, too, the officials are undecided about the implementation of the relief-for-work programme.
“We have not yet thought through on how to execute the relief-for-work scheme. We plan to move ahead as per the model prescribed by the federal government,” Arun Pidit Bhandari, spokesperson for the city, told the Post.
While the local governments await the guidelines to implement the programme, the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration is preparing to issue a working procedure for local governments on the areas where they could create jobs for informal sector workers.
“We will suggest to them the potential areas such as small irrigation projects, rural paths and sanitation by ensuring that they don’t duplicate activities under the Prime Minister Employment Programme.” Basanta Adhikari, spokesperson at the federal affairs ministry, told the Post.
Various agencies under the federal government are also collecting details about potential works where the unorganised sector workers could be employed.
The Ministry of Urban Development has recently submitted a list of 840 potential jobs for unorganised sector workers.
Likewise, the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration has submitted the areas where it could create jobs.