|Photo: Marcel Fens, on his guided tour of Khari Baoli
But there are two more words that come to my mind, and those are not-so-nice: Uneducated and Unskilled.
The informal sector in India is characterized by uneducated and unskilled labour.
Education levels are abysmal. One-fourth (23%) of informal labour is illiterate; having never gone to school. About 10% have studied upto primary school. So that's one-third of the labour force, which doesn't really know how to read or write much. They are vulnerable to exploitation, not just by employers and middlemen, but also by moneylenders. Roughly 48% of workers in the informal sector have studied until Grade 10.
In addition to the poor literacy levels, informal labourers do not have specific vocational training or skills that will bring them better paid jobs. Thus they bring literally nothing to the bargaining table, and must make-do with whatever current rates are offered to them. More than half of the informal labour force is self-employed. This makes it even more difficult to negotiate for improvements.
At the end of the day, it's about education. Until we improve vocational skills and ensure basic literacy, we're going to keep seeing low-paid, poor and unhealthy workforce.
Confederation of Indian Industries
An Analysis of the Informal Labour Market in India
A. Srija & Shrinivas V. Shirke