Covid-19, Migrant Workers

COVID-19 LOCKDOWN AND MIGRANT WORKERS IN INDIA

Introduction:
Inter-State Migrant workers are “those people who belong to Lower Income Group and move from their state of origin to another state, within the boundaries of India, in search of jobs which give them high wages, better quality of life, better facilities & other push & pull factors that contribute to the reasons of their migration”. However, these migrant workers mainly form an unorganized sector of the country. The unorganised sector of workers includes several categories of workers
working in contractual or daily pay basis. These workers receive a day-based salary or a periodic non-permanent salary of minimal value thus not having much to be called as a saved amount, furthermore they lack a proper secured saving scheme to the section of informal labour.


Plight of Migrant Workers
The lockdown declared at 24
th March, 2020 at the widespread national scenario is a boon of prevention from pandemic spread but the question of tackling situation of the informal workers yet remains unanswered. The loopholes in several policies and difference in policies in between states also keeps the situation and condition of the migrant worker to unassurance. The lack of earning and proper facilities in the migrant working places had created panic and anxiety among several migrant workers who are demanding to return back to their home states as they are being
much neglected and their basic necessity are not been looked after. An adverse picture of the same was seen at two hi-tech cities, Delhi and Mumbai in the area of Anand Vihar and Bandra where millions of migrant workers crowded in panic and anxiety with the demand to return back to their own home states.


Relevant law in this respect
It is pertinent to mention here that there exists certain international convention which provides certain rights of migrant workers. For instance, Article 8 of International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families provides that
migrant workers and members of their families shall have the right at any time to enter and remain in their State of origin.1 Moreover Article 7 lays down the standards regarding non-discrimination of migrant workers by stating that “States Parties undertake, in accordance with the international instruments concerning human rights, to respect and to ensure to all migrant workers and members of their families within their territory or subject to their jurisdiction the rights provided for in the present Convention without distinction of any kind such as to sex, race, colour, language, religion
or conviction, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, nationality, age, economic position, property, marital status, birth or other status.”
2 The Constitution of India in fact under Article 23(2) lays down the same right against exploitation.3 Section 17 of the Inter State Migrant
Workmen Act 1979 mandates the liability of the contractors in payment of wages.
4


However, all these provisions have become stagnant due to the present outbreak. There has been very less attention paid to the condition of this labour workforce regarding their basic needs. Furthermore, the condition got worse by the lesser transport facilities and sealing of interstate
border areas. There has been no proper livelihood any longer due to lockdown. If there were any facilities available for savings, it would have been easier for the workers to utilize this in this difficult situation. The reason for which they migrated i.e. better earnings and security has become
a bane for their present existence.


Conclusion
1 Article 8 of International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. Retrieved from https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/ProfessionalInterest/cmw.pdf
2 Article 7 ibid.
3 Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from imposing compulsory service for public purpose, and in imposing such service the State shall not make any discrimination on grounds only of religion, race, caste or class or any of them
4 Section 17. Responsibility for payment of wages. – (1) A contractor shall be responsible for payment of wages to each inter-State migrant workman employed by him and such wages shall be paid before the expiry of such period as may be prescribed.
(2) Every principal employer shall nominate a representative duly authorised by him to be present at the time of disbursement of wages by the contractor and it shall be the duty of such representative to certify the amounts paid as wages in such manner as may be prescribed.
(3) It shall be the duty of the contractor to ensure the disbursement of wages in the presence of the authorised representative of the principal employer.
(4) In case the contractor fails to make payment of wages within the prescribed period or makes short payment, then the principal employer shall be liable to make payment of the wages in full or the unpaid balance due, as the case may be, to the inter-State migrant workman employed by the contractor and recover the amount so paid from the contractor
either by deduction from any amount payable to the contractor under any contract or as a debt payable by the contractor.


In the present scenario, it is the responsibility of the Government of India to issue directions in this respect. The Government has in fact issued guidelines that stranded people can return to their home towns after undergoing strict medical screening both at the source and destination cities. States must also organize thermal testing units and quarantine facilities for all those who are stranded, in order to clear asymptomatic cases, before sending them back. However, the movement of migrants,
tourists and students will be restricted to non-containment zones. Consequent to the guidelines, there has been reports of trucks being packed by migrant workers and being pushed to state limits.


There has also been reports of migrant workers moving to their own hometown by riding cycles all day and night as they felt they are more secure in their villages with their friends and relatives rather than being stranded in an unknown environment with ruthless neighbours.


The Government of India thus is expected to take immediate appropriate measures to provide this migrant labourers wages for the period during which they are deprived of their work and consequent wages from the employers. It is not only a temporary measure but the Central Government should enact a law so that they along with their families are protected from the loss of wages for at least coming six months till the emergency period in India is withdrawn. In fact, the ultimate concern exists in the fact that migrant workers should be given a secure employment conditions and wages so that they no longer be pushed to this extreme in days to come.

 

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