Genius begins great works; labor alone finishes them.
Poverty is pushing millions of desperate people to resist the lockdown orders.
To control the spread of CoronaVirus the Government has chosen to confine all of
its population. Migrant workers are globally on the frontlines of the COVID-19
pandemic. They work in essential but with a low pay and in vulnerable jobs, as
health and care workers, nurses, cleaners and laundry workers, by putting them
at high risk of exposure to coronavirus.
The success of the lockdown varies from
cities to cities and towns to towns. Some areas are clearly empty with few
people venturing out, but for the millions who are below the poverty line
confinement is not an option. More than a million people have been infected by CoronaVirus around the world, India is the country so far having relatively low
infected numbers despite its huge population.
India has increasingly been
struggling to cope as it enforces the World's largest CoronaVirus lockdown, the
Government has ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses but the
measures have hit millions of low paid and migrant labourers the hardest. It is
being the story of two lockdowns i.e. the one is that in which possibly we live
in, locked in but at home, the another lockdown story is narrated by these
migrant labourers that of desperation of them trying to reach their home.
Migrant labourer is a person who is engaged or has been engaged in a paid
activity in a place of which he or she is not a resident.
Impact of the pandemic on the rights of Migrant Labourers
In this pandemic time the migrant workers are at the higher risk of losing their
livelihoods, having their labour and human rights violated and contracting
coronavirus. These migrant labourers are mostly expected to be engaged in
part-time work, work in the informal economy, especially engaging in domestic
works and in the care sector, without any formal employment contracts.
The jobs in which these migrant labourers engage are generally barred from
social insurance schemes, that means finite or no social safety, no access to
health care and maternity protection. The commencement of the pandemic has led
to dismissal from jobs for around 8.5 millions of women migrant domestic
workers, by ignoring and even violating their health and safety. The
commencement of travel restrictions has highly increased the monetary challenges
and uncertainty, with many helpless far from home.
Michelle Bachelet the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that she was
agitated by the condition of the informal migrant workers affected, many of whom
with a sudden notice were forcefully asked to leave the cities where they
worked, if they are unable to pay for rent or food.
Challenges and Risks for Migrant Labourers
Employers may also avoid rights of workers such as protection from unjustified
dismissal and offer social security and social benefits.
Labourers without any formal employment agreements, and having a finite access
to healthcare and social protection at the time of the pandemic, are
particularly at much higher risk.
With lack of support, the labourers are in a position to face a strong chance of
falling into poverty, and further after the pandemic it may become harder to
find work again once economies start to recover.
The rights of some workers to engage in work may suffer unreasonably due to the
curb in place of their work. It includes parents of young children or single
parent families, employees with health issues, and migrant workers transported
to work in agriculture or to provide social care.
Fair and Just working conditions are also the matter of concern regarding
migrant labourers. According to some reports some employers are not considering
government requirements to control the spread of the virus and putting their
workers at risk of infection by not following social/physical distancing rules.
As a result from the pressure on sectors like health and social care, and food
production and distribution, to tackle the pandemic, in the health sector and in
supermarkets, that can affect women disproportionately, the Government has also
provided relaxation on working hours.
Some other basic challenge that are being faced by the migrant workers are:
- Loss of livelihoods
- Reduced remittances
- Lack of social protection and health care
- Violence against women migrant workers
The Indian Government has announced a relief package of 1.7 trillion rupees
for providing free food and to transfer cash to the needy and vulnerable
populations, and health insurance for healthcare workers, among other things.
How can migrant labourers be protected?
As the nationwide lockdown announced on March 24th at short notice has caused
immense distress amongst migrant labourers around the country, thousands of
migrant workers are walking around India in a desperate attempt to reunite with
their families. Several questions are being raised about their welfare and the
lack of legal protection for their rights.
The labour welfare activists have decided to recall the 1979 law i.e. The
Interstate Migrant Workmen Act, to regulate the employment and working
conditions of interstate migrant labourers.
As part of the reforming Labour Law a bill has been introduced in Parliament
namely, Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code 2019, the
proposed bill seeks to compile around 13 Labour Laws and to convert them into a
single piece of legislation, but the activists of labour welfare are in fear
that if such consolidation happens then the specific safeguards which were
provided to migrant labourers will be lost.
The Interstate Migrant Workmen Act, 1979, seeks to regulate employment of
migrant labourers and their conditions of service, it is applicable to every
establishment that employs 5 or more migrant workers or if it had employed 5 or
more such workers on any day in preceding 12 months. The act would apply
regardless of whether the 5 or more workers were in addition to other employed
in the establishment or by the contractors. The Act envisages the system of
registration of such establishments. The principal employer is prohibited from
employing interstate workers without a certificate of registration from the
relevant authority, i.e. every contractor who recruits workers from one state
for deployment in another state should obtain a license to do so.
The registration of establishments employing interstate workers creates a system
of accountability and formalises the utilization of their labours. It helps the
Government to keep track of the workers employed and provides a legal basis for
regulating their conditions of service. As part of the licensing process the
contractors are bound by certain conditions i.e. they are bound to provide the
terms and conditions of the agreement on the basis of which they recruit
workers, these terms include their immuneration, hours of work, fixation of
wages and several other essentials.
If the nature of the work is similar then the conditions of the service of the
migrants shall be the same as the other workers in the same establishments, in
other instances, the prescribed amount by the suitable Government will be
applicable. According to the Minimum Wages Act, in no instance the wages shall
be lower than what is prescribed under the aforementioned act.
The attempt to consolidate these laws means that many separate laws concerning
various kinds of workers and labourers have to be repealed. The proposed law
seeks to repeal 13 acts such as the Factories Act, Mines Act, the Interstate
Migrants Workmen Act and other enactments relating to those working in different
fields. Both the Acts i.e. the older one and the newly proposed Code anticipates
the payment of a displacement and a journey allowance to the interstate migrant
Suddenly out of work, many workers were evicted from their residences by their
landlords, many have had to queue for hours in unsanitary conditions to receive
food aid from the Government. With the cutdown in transport facilities,
thousands have fled the cities to return to their villages, often on foot.
Casual labourers makeup about 90% of India's workforce, many are suddenly out of
work. In a country like India, a lockdown is probably difficult because there
are people who have to go to work to put food on the table. This lockdown has
caused a further struggle for those who are below the poverty line in India.
There are also concerns that India's food supply chain will be hindered by the