Introduction To Migrant Workers:
The increasing development and encouragement of technology made the workers run
from one place to another in search of work to fight rising unemployment and
The term 'migrant workers' is defined under International Labor Organization (ILO)
which described the condition of a worker who moves from one place to another or
who has already migrated to another place than their own, in search of work.
United Nations also defined the term 'migrant worker who is engaged or will
engage in any kind of remunerated activity provided some other state with a view
of getting wages in which he is not citizen, under the convention which was
introduced for Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of
their Families. It further defines the undocumented worker or irregular worker
which means the workers who don't have complete documents nor completed their
legal formality but still their stay in the country is more than authorized
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has described different kinds
of migrant workers where they initially differentiated between economic migrants
and labor migrants. Economic migrants are large group workers whose main aim is
to perform economic activity like investing whereas Labor migrants are those
workers who migrated with the objective of employment. They stated that the
sub-group of migrant workers included business travelers and migrant workers on
contract who can be bifurcated as a skilled worker, project-tied workers,
seasonal worker, or temporary worker.
INSTRUMENTS BY ILO:
ILO has made some standards for countries from where the migrant workers belong
and to where he lands up, for protecting the interest of this vulnerable section
of society and to manage the flow of workers between two concerned countries.
- Migration for Employment Convention (Revised), 1949 
This was the initiative where the duty was imposed on the rectified states to
facilitate international migration and provide basic facilities like information
service and free assistance, to prevent misleading and fraud emigration. It was
instructed to provide medical services to migrant workers and other facilities
which they generally provide to their national workers. In addition to this,
they stated that workers face a lot of problems in transferring earnings to
their families who are in a different country; hence the transfer should be made
easy and accessible for the migrant workers. Also, the migrant workers are
entitled to basic rights such as freedom of association, social security, and
the basic surviving condition, irrespective of their nation.
- Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions) Convention, 1975 
It focused o general human rights for the migrant workers and to prevent them
from illegal or secret emigrations which are against their interest. They
encourage equality between the workers who a citizen and who are not citizens
but emigrated from another part of the world by even going beyond the provisions
of the 1919 convention of ILO which talks about trade union, respect of culture,
collective freedoms. They even call for the reuniting of the families of migrant
workers who live legally in that country.
Social Security For Migrant Labor:
Constitutional duty is imposed on the international labor organization (ILO) to
provide at least basic pay to workers and promote social security which is
defined as per social security (minimum standards) convention 1952 which
includes unemployment benefits, medical facilities, maternity benefits,
employment injury, and survivor's benefit. By the report of Rodgers, 2001 ILO
estimated that only 10% of the total migrant workers get adequate social
security and others still suffer from abuse.
After the growing globalization, workers are found very casual and that is the
main reason for the struggle behind labor rights and their dignity. In 1997,
Singh's report was formulated which observed that almost no developing country
has any bilateral agreement nor they have national legislation for the security
of migrant workers and due to this, migrant workers don't have any social
security in the country in which they migrated in search of work.
Most of the migrant workers even don't have any right to shelter, drinking
water, and any toilet facilities. This view was changed by the factories act
1948 which made an obligation on the employer to provide their workers basic
services like latrines facilities, potable water, bathing, and urinal for all
workers, irrespective of their nationality.
The condition of migrant woman workers is worst than man and this constitutes
the reason behind less rate of participation of women in the workforce.
Approximately 96% of the women are engaged in the unorganized sector or informal
sector which is unhygienic; low waged, lacks union, and has inhuman working
Due to these conditions, in 1997 ILO introduced a convention for
protecting women workers from sexual harassment at the workplace which was
accepted by the government of India but the stated convention was threatened by
growing marginalization and actualization. By the various reports such as
Acharya 1987, Sardamoni 1995, Teerink 1995, it was established that women
workers are mainly abused when migrated.
Change In Labor Codes Of Migrant Workers After 2019, 2020 Code:
It is generally believed that the labor code is absolutely in favor of the
working class and it is the weapon for redistributing rights to all classes.
Before 2019, there were 29 labor codes on the different subject matter but in
2019 they all were repealed and formulated into four codes which are The Code on
Industrial Relations, 2020; The Code on Social Security, 2020; The Code on
Wages, 2019; and The Code on Occupational Safety, Health, and Working
Conditions, 2020 (OSH Code), where The Code on Wages came into effect in 2019
and rest came in 2020. Earlier, there was no law applicable on the unorganized
sector but the government intended to include the workers working in the
unorganized sector by formulating a new code of 2019 as 96% of the workers work
in the unorganized sector who don't even provide basic rights.
Till now we are following ISMA 1976 for the migrant worker as the new code
OSH, code 2020 has not been notified to be in force yet. Recently Supreme Court
directed the government to supply necessities items to migrant workers like
community kitchen and follow the 'one nation one ration card rule' by asking
them to implement ISMA 1976 efficiently.
Earlier there was very less strictness in law and the regulation of the workers
was so informal and casual but now this scenario is changed by four codes that
introduced the concept of fixed labor and the contract labor concepts which are
mandatory to follow.
It was highlighted that majority of the migrant workers are located in the
informal sector which lacks regulation and structure and hence deprived the
labor of all the facilities. Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of
Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 ('ISMA'), is the first
regulation which objects to provide protection end entitlements to migrant labor
and now it is merged with The Code on Occupational Safety, Health, and Working
Conditions, 2020. Apart from ISMA 1979, this code (OSH 2020) pertains to the
Factories Act, 1948 and other contract labor laws such as the Contract Labor
(Abolition and Regulation) Act, 1970 (CLA) and Construction Workers
(Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996. It is noted that
migrant workers are generally hired as contract laborers and hence their rights
are mentioned under OSH 2020.
OSH 2020 has introduced various changes in the law for the migrant worker where
most of the changes reduce the poor implementing of law across India. On
contrary, there is harmful change also which provides for the shrinkage for
including the workers. Chapter XI of OSHC 2020 deals with special provisions for
contract labor and inter-state migrant worker, where part II talks about
inter-state migrant workers. Section 59 of the code states the applicability
which established that the code will be applicable on the establishment where
more than nine or we can say 10 or more interstate migrants are employed whereas
ISMA was wider applicability and it covers the establishment in which 5 or more
workers are employed.
As per the economic census 2016, it was reported that
there is only 1.66% of the establishments who are engaged in a non-agriculture
field with 10 or more interstate migrant workers and this is the reason why the
establishments are left out of the applicability of section 59 of OSH 2020 hence
prevented the workers from getting relief under enacted code and still facing
exploitation and abuse.
Another aspect on which the latest code OSH is differentiated from ISMA is on
the role of 'contractor'. Earlier under ISMA, the migrant worker was defined as
the workers which are recruited by or through the contractor which means the
contractor plays the role of intermediary and it makes obvious that he would be
charging something from both sides for fulfilling needs to both employers who
needs worker and worker who needs work. But this scenario is changed by the OSH
202 which omitted the role of contractor and defines the migrant worker as the
direct relationship between employer and worker where there is no intermediary,
therefore saving extra cost.
Moreover, OSH 2020 limits its scope of prevention to the class of worker who
earns less than RS. 18000 only which means that workers earning more than
18000Rs will be left out of the protection of this code. The intent behind
legislations is that this provision is still unclear but it can be inferred that
they want to focus more on the vulnerable and poor section of the class of
OSH 2020 talks about merely interstate migrants under chapter XI and missed the
whole concept of intra migrant workers. It is noted that almost 88% of the
movement is internal to state and intra migrant workers also face the same
vulnerabilities and abuses. There is also a need for the law regarding
intrastate migrant workers.
Earlier, the contractor was obliged to pay displacement allowance to a migrant
worker at the time of migration which motivates him to migrate and supports him
in working at another place. ISMA recognized the displacement allowance which
was done away with by the OSH 2020.
Administrative law plays a vital function in OSH 2020 as well as ISMA where the
legislature delegated the power with the state government to make rules and
regulations as per the situation. There is a reservation in OSH 2020 for the
rules which will be formulated by every state government as per the situation in
their state. For the 'ease of doing business,' the legislature delegated the
It is expected from the labor code that it will improve the situation but
instead it is against the working class and bending more towards the capital.
Government failure is observed that several levels and it impacted the
marginalized section. Trade union and other labor activists raised their voices
and ask for their rights and demands but that is generally ignored but it is
high time to focus on those concerns and prevent future circumstances. We have
already faced one drastic in-humanitarian crisis in 2020 and we need to make
sure that this won't repeat in any other year.
Labor Rights and Labor Standards for Migrant Labor in India:
The intent of the government and the employers is anything that is to be revived
and has to be on the backs of the laborers, making them even more miserable than
they are now.
Over the years one has seen the real formalization of labor and now it has
become even more informed. The mechanism has been through contractor and
casualization. The casual way of working doesn't recognize the worker at all. As
far as employers are concerned, it's just a mask of unidentified labor, and that
is the problem that has now come up.
During the pandemic, there was a complete criminalization of migrant workers
existence, as a migrant person cannot be out on the streets of a city to buy
even ration and protest otherwise they have to face lathe charges from police to
send laborers back to their respective residential places if not houses. Migrant
workers can't even go further from the state border to their home state.
Whenever we talk about labor conditions in India, there can be no presence of
demarcation between the social question and the question of labor. When we talk
about the social question, the issue of caste, gender, minorities, and ethnic
identities has become widely important.
The recognition of the fact that India is so deeply hierarchical and
discriminatory that we don't care about classes of labor. That is the situation
from which India has existed in all times despite whatever pattern of capitalist
development India witnessed with time. The fact that Indian culture and
governance hand in hand has been able to treat all kinds of indignities of
labor, that citizens of India do not imbue physical labor with human dignity.
Labor policy is merely a part of how we structure ourselves is used to dealing
with vulnerable labor at the bottom of the pyramid. Institutions were never
created irrespective of the conundrum that India had faced in terms of how d we
give handouts to workers; it is believed that the Indian state can deliver in
the most complex situations.
Story of labor transformed its specific ways after 1991 with liberalization and
Indian states started liberalizing a phase of labor laws more De Facto than De
Jure dealing with the states rather than the center labor market in-formalized
as a result of such change.
The heart of the Indian economy was followed out from the 1990s onwards with an
accelerating pace in this century so that the organized sector of the economy
itself become informalized. Even at the beginning of this century, 73% of
organized sector manufacturing in this country was already informal and that
increased to 77% in 2017-18. The organized service sector which was technically
the most formal part of the economy was 33% informal in 2004-05 and became 52%
informal in 2017-18.
If growth is kept into consideration, over the last 15-20
years, India has had declining agricultural employment, but this was matched by
the very slow rate of growth of formal employment. Primarily it was informal
employment that has grown in this country and it grew within the purview of the
labor law that India has.
The labor law did not afford any protection to any section of the labor either
within the formal sector of the economy or within the informal sector of the
economy. This occurred much before the nature of the state. India still has a
new liberal state under this government, but now we have a harder and rigid
In a state which believes that the courts will do its bidding and
interpretations of laws, the legislature will make just and reasonable laws
followed by the executive leading to implement such laws most efficiently and
The changes started occurring much earlier, previously a modicum of regulation
of unorganized sector workers was lacking but over the past 20-30 years it is
the organized sector of the economy which has become unbuttoned.
Unconventionality and migration have to be understood simultaneously as it has
gone hand in hand and they co-exist with discrimination in labor market
segmentation. The growth into informality in India is due to the growth of a
circular migration in India which includes both short-term and long-term
migration periods. 
The most important aspect we need to consider is the social distance. Social
distance dwells between migrant workers and the state. The fact that most of our
labor communities emerged from Dalit Bahujan communities whereas most of those
who hold power and dominate come from a very different background is something
that cannot be ignored.
Those who are in positions of dominance and will, understanding of the nature of
labor and the idea of fixed labor should be enlightened with the present
scenario of the country.
When it comes to India thinking about labor, it is well
known that labor is not fixed rather categorized under mobile population. The
juncture that labor is not fixed we see today doesn't necessarily come with the
recognition that the social protections and social rights that should be made
available and not, therefore, be fixed. Our procedures of excess in social
rights tend to be based on the imagination that labor will remain at one place
whereas it is not the case as seen by all.
One Nation One Yojana or similar ideas are sort of too late to introduce in a
country like India where rapid growth of population has always been a major
concern. Portable social rights would have perhaps been one way of addressing
the very pressing concerns the labor population has. Concerning this is the
non-observance of the Indian state and Indian ruling or privileged classes to
think about labor as citizens. The Indian state has barely thought about labor
concerning citizenship. In some respect, responsibility must need to be taken
for the way labor has been written and portrayed.
In terms of such basic aspects of citizenship as forte, India is a country where
millions of people are involved in immigration and migration practices in search
of work. Voting is an act that is incredibly fixed in place, the corollary being
that you can only vote where registered. That eventually becomes meaningless for
so many people who are moving around in search of work, for them voting would
ultimately become a challenge that can be done effortlessly. A version of the
long-distance vote and postal vote must need to be introduced and probably
counted in respect to understanding the gravity of the voting system.
One of the most discussed questions that arise here is, "how urban governance
link labor employment with questions of labor procurity?" There are no ways in
which labor is represented in day-to-day urban governance of the city,
neighborhoods, residential areas where labor resides. That highlights the
omission of the government system concerning treating labor as citizens. In
addition to the actual framework of labor law, the ideas of labor in the last
few months where solidarity would have been expected from the middle-class
society with the condition that migrant labor was facing during their period of
hardship and struggle.
The state now believes economic revival is possible only by further weakening of
labor protections and many states have used ordinances to go down the path.
Within that larger context, the question of gender and labor also assumes a very
urgent relevance because of the extraordinary scale of decline in women
employment which India has witnessed between 2004-05 and 2017-18.
In responding to the pandemic (covid-19), migrant workers were not the area of
concern for the central government as the nation has to deal with a catastrophic
virus attacking the country speedily. Women migrant workers were completely out
of the sight of the state and its governing bodies. Provisions were lacking
which needed to be there for the women labor for their protection, safety, and
health. Not only survival was at stake, even terms of travel, food, and
rebuilding of women migrant labor were also forsaken.
As far as the lockdown is concerned in India due to the pandemic, it has
affected the entire universe of informal work. Here 85-90% of the working class
has been referred. Dwelling in India and the consumption data also shows very
clearly that 80% of households have experienced significant declines in
consumption without having savings to cope with the pandemic.
Covid-19 has proven to be a very severe crisis. It would be wrong if it is said
that this crisis lends itself to what people call V-shaped recovery. Coming out
of such destructive crises is going to be extremely protracted. The major issue
of concern is going to be the problem of demand. External demand which is almost
30% of the gross domestic product s going to take an extraordinarily long time
to revive. Demand should be systematically revived and stipulated.
government of India has announced a stimulus package, which is less than 1% of
GDP. Alongside, the government has announced a medium-term reform package which
mostly regurgitates the old reforms with some new sets of amendments and
There is nothing shortly which can help revive India's economy in the led 6
months to here. India has witnessed a set of changes in labor laws. There was a
prototype recommendation made by the central government that states need to
respond in attracting investments which includes both domestic and international
investments through lengthening of the Labor Day, through demolishing labor
laws, and so on. From a labor economic point of view, this is a bizarre response
to the extremely serious crises.
The major manifestation of which be in the form of demand contraction, nothing
much has been done. Nearly 0.8% of GDP is going for demand.
The liberalization of labor laws does not lend itself to either hire employment
or high growth scenario.
When there is a severe quantity rationing of employment, all the data from
Indian states i.e. cross-sectional data, time-series data tells us that it is
majorly weaker sections and particularly women whose employment declined very
precipitously. India had experienced a decline of 18% in female labor post
participation over the last two decades. Unfortunately, this situation will
exacerbate in years to come.
Formerly, mere workforce participation rates have been more or less stable.
Female workforce participation has been declining. In the next two three years,
India will witness extreme constriction of overall employment within which sharp
declining rates of women workforce participation will be seen imminently with
sharper impact on the wages and earnings of the labor class population
irrespective of their age and gender.
The trafficking in persons (Prevention, care, and rehabilitation bill 2021) was
placed in the public domain by the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
The concerned and responsible government authority does not highlight the
improvements of employer-employee relationship but majorly focuses on Dalit or
Tribal migrant workers to take on his employer. The labor will be sent and
rescued to perform such labor practices through forceful means and this new law
will ultimately prove in degrading the livelihood of labor capital.
While anyone who is exposed to forced labor should discover a response in law.
The enrollment and development for such work is regularly an aftereffect of
affectation and may likewise include bonus promises and duplicity, ultimately
resulting in bringing them under the meaning of trafficking.
Dragging National Investigation Agency authorities in investigating trafficking
crimes including young migrant workers as casualties is contrary to the standard
of the well-being of the child. In this regard, the Draft Bill is in opposition
to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 which
Accenture on child-friendly structure through the proviso for child welfare
committees, special juvenile police units, and child welfare police officers.
The Inter-state Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of
Service) Act, (ISMWA) 1979 has been the main labor law in India for interior
migrants. It tended to project worker activated migration, where advances are
paid for enrollment as a standard. It avoided intrastate migrants from its ambit
and isn't applied to the weak circumstances of these migrant laborers who might
be driven by trouble, yet have gone from their homes all alone. The ISMWA
imparts normal reason to the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act, 1976 (BLSAA)
as an interpose against labor bondage in migration.
The BSLAA orders a notable status, since it illegalized bondage induced by
customary relationships and debt, just as their appearance in monumental
imperatives on agreement labor and interstate migrants. It subsequently
addresses debt-based bondage and primitive caste-based frameworks of forced
It incorporates restoration financed by the central government, and the carrying
out power is the area authority/magistrate. Lastly, it was given constitutional
status in the Ninth Schedule. All the more impressive managerial constructions
and assets were squeezed right into it by the law against bonded work in
contrast with other labor laws.
In migration streams tended to by the ISMWA, the standard is of wage advances to
the families a long time before they migrate, for the work that is generally
occasional, and where ladies are regularly recruited as a component of nuclear
families instead of as separate individuals. Since wages are for the most part
paid to family heads, ladies are effectively denied a maverick wage. This
distinctive condition was not, notwithstanding, tended to by the main law for
migrant laborers in India, addressing an inclination to disregard women's
independent way of life as laborers.
Regardless of their genealogy in the Constitution, it is well to remember that
both BLSAA and ISMWA were considered under the shadow of a dominion crisis
system (1975�77) that subdued working-class potential, yet tried to acquire
political help by abrogating communist rhetoric. Perhaps, laws contained a
hierarchical methodology and didn't draw in with labor representation or
While the BLSAA has not prevailed with regards to abolishing a
few types of bonded labor, the ISMWA is perceived as a most inadequate labor law
(NCEUS 2007). The ISMWA, obviously, makes reference to rise to pay "regardless
of sex," and records the Maternity Benefit Act as applicable, which
indicates proprietor's responsibility to pay maternity advantage at the pace of
the normal wage. In any case, this doesn't work where ladies don't have freely
Shockingly, regardless of many years of lawful activism on issues of bonded
labor, a viewpoint on the particular types of subjugation of bonded labor
migrants has stayed untapped. No information is accessible on the quantity of
women laborers delivered from bondage, nor is there any conversation on the
estimation of free wages for women when nuclear families of work are paid at
Movement of migrant workers was unstoppable despite having rules and laws for
the regulation of policies and schemes favoring poor laborers and migrant
workers at large. Planning was key factor which was missing throughout the
timeline and even during the Covid-19 Pandemic when it was required the most so
as to control the chaotic spread of people around the world. Efforts were to
regulate the movement and improve the living standards of laborers but the
result came out was not satisfying as expected.
Despite having rigid laws and
policies and existence of plethora of legislation at all levels state, national
and international, laborers still have to suffer and fight to get their basic
human rights enshrined in the ILO. Merely planning and executing a bit of it
won't give out the best result with efficiency and effectiveness.
implementation and strict interpretations of policies and provisions by the
governing and law framing bodies must need to be adopted and strengthened to
ensure the availability of resources, rights and basic respect to the labor
class people so as to make the world free and fair for them to survive without
facing much difficulties which can and should be avoided if genuine and
appropriate measures comes in force with a vision to achieve certain goals which
will devise ameliorating the conditions of the laborers and migrant workers.
Most states despite their efforts have remained ineffective in regulating the
movement of migrant workers and also screening them properly. It is astonishing
to note that even after the existence of a plethora of legislation and labor
standards at the national and international level, there still remains a wide
gap between basic human rights of laborers and the legal framework governing
Policymakers need to take a practical approach towards the
protection of the rights of the migrant laborers as their social situation is
already difficult. Covid-19 outbreak underlined the grave inadequacies in the
policy of Disaster Management constructed by the Government of India.
In this manner it very well may be inferred that there exist inconsistencies in
India's pandemic and crisis replication techniques that should be examined
critically. The technique, which builds the incorporation of all parts of the
intramural migrants' local area in the public eye, particularly kids and ladies,
ought to be more empathetic.
It is withal suggested that in advance of
presenting any enactment that could affect the existence of the majority, the
public should be taken into certainty. Central to turn away unexpected strategy
choices can influence the existences of huge masses. Apprehension on the need to
focus on inner movement in policymaking moreover should be increased. In Indian
culture, there is a further need to modify the disparaging discernment framed on
the migrant workers.
It's undeniably true that most nations have adopted a lazy strategy towards the
ILO norms for transient workers/laborers. Apparently nations should consolidate
authoritative systems as per the ILO guidelines; in any case, most have
neglected to do as such. The work laws in India actually have far to go.
- United Nations agency 1919
- Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of
Service) Act, 1979 ('ISMA').
- By the report of census 2011.
- Dhruv Kumar, Fourth Year - University Of Petroleum And Energy
Ph No: 9587747972, LinkedIn Profile Link: linkedin.com/in/dhruv-kumar-110510198
- Amisha Gupta, Fourth Year - University Of Petroleum And Energy
Ph No: 9215204121, LinkedIn Profile Link: linkedin.com/in/amisha-gupta-90834b194
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