From: Counting the Cost

India under lockdown: A threat to workers’ rights?

India rushes through labour reforms while China tightens its grip on Hong Kong. Plus, the rise of virtual jobs.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi stunned many last year with his landslide election victory despite unemployment rates reaching a 45-year high and his failure to deliver on certain economic reforms.

He promised to create 10 million jobs a year, but he did not, and his plan to tackle corruption with a ban on certain bank notes hit the poorest the hardest, while his ambitious Make-in-India campaign has struggled for any real traction.

Rather than use his mandate to push through economic reforms, he played to his base with a populist Hindu nationalist programme, taking a firm grip of Kashmir, rolling out divisive citizenship rules and doing little to stop mob and police attacks on minorities.

Now the coronavirus pandemic presents a new challenge. A nation-wide lockdown, imposed in late March and eased in recent weeks, has stranded tens of millions of migrant workers and killed off 120 million jobs.

The International Labour Organization has warned that about 400 million Indians could slip into poverty as a result of the lockdown.

Modi announced a $266bn stimulus programme to see the economy through the pandemic – although economists predict it will only boost the economy by about 1.5 percent.

Economists at Goldman Sachs believe the Indian economy will contract a staggering 45 percent in the second quarter.

After two months of lockdown, some of India’s biggest states have suspended most labour laws, rolling back protections such as minimum wage and employee benefits. While proponents say the move will help restart the economy, critics say the government is pushing through reforms that exploit workers while they are unable to protest under coronavirus restrictions.

Elizabeth Puranam reports from New Delhi. Plus, we crunch the numbers with Neha Anna Thomas, a senior economist at research and business consultancy Frost and Sullivan.

Can Hong Kong keep its status as Asia’s financial hub?

Hong Kong has long held the crown as the biggest financial centre in Asia. Behind New York and London, it is ranked third in the world at $4.9 trillion.

But all that could be undermined by China’s decision to stamp out continuing democracy protests with a controversial national security bill.

While Hong Kong’s benchmark index lost 7 percent of its value last month, there is no evidence that international investors have rushed for the exit.

There is evidence, however, that China is flooding the market with capital, to give the impression of “business as usual”.

Meanwhile, the United States has threatened to sanction Chinese officials who are closely tied to the security clampdown.

Reuben Mondejar, professor for Asian Initiatives at the University of Navarra’s IESE Business School, joins us to discuss what the future holds for Hong Kong’s status as a financial centre.

Virtual jobs in the real world

Hundreds of millions of jobs have been lost worldwide because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Those who can have been working from home, using online technology.

As the virtual economy continues to grow, it employs hundreds of thousands of people and is worth $100bn a year, which makes it bigger than the global film industry, according to researchers at foresight company L’Atelier.

Among those jobs are “farmers”: people who sell in-game items to other online players.

More than 150,000 people worldwide are earning up to $25,000 a year doing this.

It has been popular in Venezuela where these so-called farmers can earn $40 a month, in a country rife with unemployment, where the average wage is $7.50 per month.

Joining us to discuss jobs in the virtual world is John Egan, chief executive of L’Atelier, which is part of BNP Paribas.