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Sunday, October 24, 2021

The Labour Scenario Appears Grim On International Workers Day

The Migrant Workers...A Most Vulnerable Lot

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Raju Vernekar
I am a mumbai based journalist having worked with many daily newspapers.

INDIA: Mumbai: While the International Workers Day is being celebrated on First May, the labour scenario appears grim with loss of jobs, closure of industrial units and the plight of migrant and informal workers remains vulnerable with many of them returning to their native places by available mode of transport due to financial hardship, that follows a lockdown.

International workers day

The International Workers’ Day also known as Labour Day and May day, became associated with the labour movement in the late 19th century, after trade unions and socialist groups designated it as a day in support of workers. It was decided to observe the International Workers Day in memory of the Haymarket affair of 1886, in Chicago in the United States, in which a peaceful rally in support of workers led to violent clash with the police, leading to the death of 4 civilians and 7 police officers. In India, May Day was first celebrated on May 1, 1923, after the Labour Kisan Party of Hindustan initiated and Comrade Singaravelar helmed the celebrations.

Lock down and Job loss

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In its data released soon after the first national lock down imposed from March 25,2020 onwards, following the outbreak of COVID-19, the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) and the ILO-ADB stated that 18.9 million salaried jobs were lost during April 2020-July 2020. But, employment in the informal sector increased by 8 million, compared to last July 2019. The ILO report suggested that 04.1 million youth lost the jobs, especially from construction and agriculture. But these are mostly informal sector jobs.

Aatmanirbhar Bharat Rozgar Yojana

The Union Government in March this year stated that around 16.5 lakh people were benefited from the Aatmanirbhar Bharat Rozgar Yojana (ABRY), launched in October 2020 to encourage hiring in the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Now with re- imposition of mini lock down this year in parts of India, the unemployment touched 8.6% for the week ending April 11, 2021 from 6.7% two weeks ago, as per CMIE.  The hit is more severe in urban areas where it’s nearing 10%.

During the lockdown last year, an estimated 200 migrant workers including their children reportedly died on their way back home. It was pathetic to watch women with babes in arms trudging their way in the scorching sun. Each day’s economic productivity decides the wages of the migrant workers. Since they became economically unproductive during the lockdown, they do not receive any payment. With little or no savings at hand, a massive exodus of migrant workers took place last year.

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After the crisis was highlighted the Union government-organized special “Shramik trains” and temporary ration supplies for migrant workers. However social protection continued to dodge them. This year too the same scenario is being repeated with long queues of migrant workers outside railway stations in Mumbai, New Delhi and Gujarat, and other places.

The migrant workers comprise those handling menial jobs, construction workers and others. They are people employed by contractors for piecemeal work which neither guarantees a job continuation nor social security benefits. The migrants also include roadside hawkers. These migrants live in slums or live in the open without access to water and sanitation. They are subjected to exclusion and alienation in urban labour markets.

Although the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979, existed earlier, its provisions were largely overlooked by most states with no records of workers maintained. Now the provisions of this act have been subsumed into the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Act (OSHWCA), under the Industrial Relations Code, 2020 passed in September last year. Earlier there was also the Unorganised Worker Social Security Act 2008 which made the registration of migrant workers compulsory for employers. But by and large, this act was also not implemented in letter and spirit.

New labour code

Chapter XI, Part II of the OSHWCA, pertains to migrant workers. But it is silent about the migrants who move within state borders or intra-state migrants. Besides, there is no provision to make companies file annual reports with the labour departments on migrant workers employed and allowances paid to them. The act provides for a jail term of up to one year and a fine of Rs 1,000 for violating any contained provisions. It also says that the owner of the establishment employing migrant workers can be prosecuted for violations. Under the act, the labour inspector is the principal implementer, which gives him powers to conduct inspections and take testimonies of the workers at any time. It also provides for 2 years of jail for obstructing his work.

The OSHWA covers any worker who has migrated to another state, including self-employed workers. It also calls for their registration on a portal that the Central government and the state governments have been mandated to set up. However, the exact mechanism through which this will be done and how the responsibilities related to registration would be fixed is not clear.

The migrants

As per the Census 2011, there are over 45 crore migrants in the country. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are the largest sources of inter-state migrants, while Maharashtra and Delhi are the largest receiver states. According to reports of the state labour bureaus, not more than 5% of the migrant workers are enrolled with any state government agency with the only exception of Odisha, which has a helpline and facilities for children of migrant workers. Besides, the Goa government has become a first state to set up a dedicated cell to resolve the issues being faced by migrants labourers. There are over 11 lakh migrants in Goa.

The gesture by states

Last year, some states including Maharashtra, Delhi, and Bihar had made arrangements for shelter homes for migrant workers and had provided them food and food grains. Now with the imposition of semi lock-down, following the second wave of COVID-19, the Maharashtra Government has asked developers to provide accommodation to their construction workers near the worksite and to ensure that their COVID-19 related tests are carried out. The government has also made a one-time payment of Rs 5000 to over 9 lakh construction workers under Direct Benefit Transfer says Maharashtra Labour Minister Hassan Mushriff, who has maintained that more benefits would flow in favour of the migrant workers, once the data is upgraded. There are nearly 13 lakh registered building construction workers in Maharashtra, for whom a sum of Rs 137.61 crore has been earmarked. The government has also been providing free meals- “Shiv Bhojan” to the migrant workers in and around Mumbai, to check the migrants from leaving the city and returning to their villages outside Maharashtra.

Now with the Centre’s direction to states to maintain the data of migrant workers, it is expected that the process is uniformly implemented throughout India. This would automatically show the movement of workers and can ensure stipulated minimum wages to them.

If the Government department titled “Protector of Immigrants” (POI), is set up, it will safeguard the interest of migrant workers and will also be able to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the country through porous borders. There is no secret that a sizable number of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, who include domestic help and unskilled workers, are working in many states in India. Such arrangement could be on the lines of “Protector of Emigrants” (POE) under which intending emigrants are given clearance, to protect and aid them during their stay abroad.

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