Unorganised sector workers to get ESIC health benefits; PMO asks body to tap reserve fund

All 380 million unorgansied sector workers may get treatment at Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC)-run healthcare facilities.

Sources said the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has directed the ESIC to work on the plan by using its over Rs 1-trillion reserve fund, lying mostly in fixed-income instruments with the banks, to enhance its medical infrastructure and extend its reach to all 740 districts of the country from 575 now.

At present, the ESIC extends medical facilities to its members or insured persons (IPs), and members of their families, called beneficiaries, through a network of 160 ESI hospitals including eight medical colleges, two dental colleges, 1,517 dispensaries and 76 dispensaries-cum-branch offices. The number of ESIC beneficiaries now stands at over 130 million.

Further, in 157 districts where ESI hospitals are not available, it has collaboration with Ayushman Bharat-Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY) and the entire expenditure for treatment of such ESI beneficiaries is borne by the ESIC.

The ESIC is applicable to all factories and other establishments employing 10 or more persons earning up to Rs 21,000 a month. The ESI Act, 1948, which governs the corporation, does not apply to the unorganised sector now. In the contributory scheme, the employer contributes 3.25% and the employee 0.75% of the wages towards the scheme.

A home-based worker, self-employed worker or a wage worker who is not a member of the (ESIC) or the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) is called an unorganised worker. For the first time, the government has taken the initiative to identify such workers by registering them in the e-shram portal. Around 280 million out of an estimated 380 million of them have already been registered on the portal.

The social security code, passed in September 2020, provides the right to health security under the ESIC to the the maximum possible workers. In addition to this, the option of the ESIC is proposed to extended to plantation workers, gigs and platform workers and institutions with less than 10 workers. If there is risky work in an institute, that institute will inevitably be brought under the purview of the ESIC, even if it is a sole labourer.

Sources said the government may ask unorganised sector workers like domestic and household workers, construction workers and those engaged as private security, among millions of others, and are not members of either the EPFO or the ESIC at present, to make a paltry contribution to the social security fund, proposed in the social security code, to avail medical benefits under the scheme.

In February, a little over 33 million existing employees of the ESIC paid contribution under the scheme, of which 1.6 million were newly registered.