Posted on: October 24, 2020 Posted by: admin Comments: 0

Author: A. Amrittha, Student at Government Law College, Vellore


This is an article about the “Labourers and Migrant Worker’s Crisis” is an over-view of migrant laborers living ways and most importantly throws light on the difficult times faced by the working class people especially during dark days of the Covid-19 pandemic. It starts with the early history of migrant laborers, how laborers and migrant workers communities formed in India, reasons for migration, percentage of migrating people and regions were they move out. It gives an outline about the status of laborers in India and extends to talk about the working age ratio index, how the country struggles to create employment, main barriers to produce jobs, lockdowns during the pandemic, and how laborers and migrant workers are badly affected by the worst hit economy.

This article chooses to be the voice of the voiceless. Though everyone of us faced bad times during this pandemic,it was the days of torment for the laborers and migrant workers. They were left to face nightmares that no one has ever imagined. So the author has taken up this issue to highlight their problems and the challenges faced during this critical situation. It also examines the outline of laws and policies in the constitutional perspective. Finally the article concludes sowing seeds of hope on the areas of improvement which can help the country to create a better and safe life for the weakest in the society. The article ends with a deep question of probability if these misfortunes can be changed or avoided if we have to face this kind of crisis all over again in the near future.


 India is a country that is one among the fast-growing economic giants in the world and ranks the 2nd most populated nation. We have always had surplus manpower in the country and the estimated percentage of working class people comprises of more than 50% of the population, which roughly comes to about 70 crore people. India also has the highest ratio of working-age people. About 49.8% of population comes under working-class age, which is the highest when compared with any other country[1].

The real problem is people find it hard to get a job in this nation. The country has the best working-age ratio index still it suffers from historically highest ratio of unemployment and there could be many reasons stated, but the fact could not be denied. India is lagging in developing skilled and technical manpower. The rapid increase in population growth, lack of even economical growth throughout the country, low industrialization, lack of education, distribution of welfare, social stratification etc, can be stated as reasons for the surplus unskilled manpower. It has been estimated that in the 70 crores working-class population, about 55 crore people work as laborers/ unskilled laborers/ unorganized laborers.

Of all these odds, our country was doing well economically. In fact, we even managed to survive when the world faced recession during 2007 and it was the contribution of the lowest level workers and laborers which kept us strong so far. Their share towards the growth of economy is immense and very significant. But due to rapid inclination of the population and the persisting unemployment crisis, people to accommodate themselves into a job migrate to different parts of the country.

The Articles 19 (1) (d), 19 (1) (e), 19 (1) (g), 19 (5), 19(6) of the Indian constitution facilitates and gives the rights and freedom to any citizen to move across the country, to reside across the country, and  to work or to do business or trade across the country. Almost 5 crore people have migrated as laborers across the country from their native places to different states. Also our constitution helped frequent movement and easy migration for the needy and the job lookouts. But in the recent days, hard times arrived again. Due to the world economic slowdown the economic growth of countries like India has been badly affected. Also due to climate change and global warming agriculture sector which predominantly employs laborers is the worst hit. The first victims of these kinds of issues are the laborers.


At this crucial time the world is witnessing a historical disaster in the form of CORONA (Covid-19), this crisis has brought the world economy to halt. Because of the pandemic disease, each and every economic sector is badly hit, some even beyond revival in the near future. The laborers are the worst hit; to be precise the migrant laborers are the ones who are witnessing a nightmare. To control the spreading disease the Indian government announced a series of lockdowns since mid-march 2020. These unplanned lockdowns and economic problems that followed left over 4 crore migrant laborers jobless. The bitter truth is they have not only lost their jobs but also lost their right to life.

Migrant labors who came in search of better life were affected so badly and everyone of us witnessed it with our very own eyes. They were left stranded without access to even food, water or shelter. No one cared, not the proprietors who employed them, nor did the respective governments took responsibility. No transportation was available to get back to their home. With no other option, many decided to walk back home thousands of miles, they walked and walked until their feet’ blood  and some even died along the way[2].

While the whole nation was in complete shock witnessing these tragedies, many of us would have had some questions lingering in our thoughts. Why did not the Indian law come to  the rescue of these underprivileged people? What does the Indian law and judicial system would recommend in these circumstances? Is there a remedy? Can there be changes brought in labor laws to avoid such situations in  the future

This article about the migrant labor crisis will discuss the crucial topics of this issue.


The migrant laborers are people who migrate away from their home in respect to be employed, who usually do not have the intention to settle permanently in the working place or region.

India is a country with a rich heritage and long history. Many archaeological findings of ancient civilizations that existed in the sub-continent have proved how advanced and sophisticated life they were living. Trade and business flourished everywhere and people traveled lot often with their workers. Apart from them, casual workers in order to seek job and better livelihood traveled to different parts of the country where the journey, migrant laborers started.

In British India, it was an era of Industrialization. Education was made available to develop skilled labor and those people were transported to various regions where the industries were located. People evolved and started to move more frequently according to their requirements.

After Independence, the economic growth of the nation continued, but it was slow and random. The Growth was uneven throughout the country. Certain regions of the country were still lagging in important aspects to attain desired economical growth and to produce jobs in balance with the exploding population. Lack of Education, industrialization, health care and growing population were major barriers also caste and religious discrimination were running high in particular regions that resulted in unemployment and caused people to migrate to other states as laborers. Majority migrants are people from states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, and few northeastern states move to others states like Delhi, southern states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat. About 5 crore migrant laborers living in different states of the country. It has been estimated that about 37% of these migrant labors are from eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. (The region called as Poorvanchal)


The problems faced by migrant laborers are more complex. By an analysis of the migrating pattern it is clear that, the migrant laborers contribute more to India’s economy but they are not in a protective and prosperous area. The migration can be permanent, semi-permanent, seasonal or circular.

The foremost challenge of laborers who tend to migrate is their suffering in the hands of their agents and brokers initially to whom they had to pay hefty commission to get employment in the desired places. Due to their poverty they are forced to work for low wages. In many cases , the laborers are illegally trafficked to different places to indulge them in illegal work. They are exploited by contractors who employ them and they are forced to work for long working hours against the Factories Act, 1948 & they are paid less than prescribed wages according to Minimum Wages Act, 1948.

The major problems faced by migrant laborers are communicable and occupational diseases due to unsanitary conditions of the places where they are kept, also migrants suffer from occupational disease because they are mostly employed in 3d jobs (Dangerous, Dirty and Degrading). In general, these laborers are not accessible to many healthcare programs due to their temporary status in the regions they reside for work. The other issue faced by them is their need to prove their identity for the entitlement of social welfare. Even the children of migrant workers face various problems. They are prone to child labor, malnutrition and deprived of facilities to get educated.

The problem faced by migrant laborers during the pandemic has increased to many folds. According to Azim Premji University survey around 66% workers lost jobs, 77% consume less food than before lockdown[3].The hardest hit were the migrant laborers who were stranded without money, work and food during the lockdown. As a result of this overcrowding happened thus, it became the key factor for  the Pandemic. As they lack legal identity from host state, they can’t even negotiate for social aids.


The fundamental right of laborers is social security and it is guaranteed to all human beings by law. The International Labor Organization is constitutionally bound to promote social security and provide basic needs of protection. According to Article 2 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” every member of society has a right to social security”. Labor rights are human rights and the Indian states cannot abdicate its constitutional obligation and commitments that it has made by ratifying various conventions of ILO as a result of which it is bound to promote decent working condition, freedom, equity, security and dignity.

The constitutional trinity assures its citizens to provide “Socialistic Pattern of Society” and create “Welfare State” and all legislation, specially the Labor legislation are deeply influenced by them.According to Indian constitution the pertinence of dignity of labor and the necessity for protecting and safeguarding their interest is guaranteed in chapter III {article 16, 19, 21,23 and 24} Chapter IV {article 38,39, 41, 42, 43, 43A and 54}. The articles 21, 23, 24, 38, 39, 39A, 41, 42, 43A and 37 lays down the condition of labor and the responsibility of the Government to secure the labor from the social order, wages and their living dignity. The right to life is not confined to mere physical existence that includes right to live with human dignity.[4] The right to work must be  given the same strength of fundamental right of constitution.The same was held in the case of D K Yadav V. JMA Industries[5]. It observed that Article 21 clubs life with liberty, dignity of person with means of livelihood without which the glorious content of dignity would be reduced to animal existence.

Though articles in Chapter IV cannot be enforced in the court of law  they are nevertheless fundamental in the governance of the country, as the DPSP cast a duty to the state to apply these principles while making laws. Therefore the subordinate of Fundamental rights that are guaranteed in part III are the Directive Principles of State Policy(Part IV).

The Pandemic labor rights and the Supreme Court’s Judgment in Gujarat Mazdoor sabha(Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha V. State Of Gujarat)the judgment of J.Chandrachud revolves around two axes,both of them are important from the constitutional perspective, wherein the court held that the court does not limit its argument to the statutory framework.By using DPSP as interpretive guides, it states core labor rights within Articles 21 and 23 of the constitution. This is important because existing labor laws are replaced by new labor codes which take the restrictive approach towards labor rights. Here it is the remainder of the court that the labor rights are ultimately located in the constitution and it cannot be denied to any laborers in the country.[6]   New laws were promulgated regarding occupational safety, health and working condition code, 2019 where it subsumes and replaces 30 labor laws related to labor issue[7]. Many allowances that are also entitled to migrant labors are not given[8]. Despite these existing laws, poor implementation of the laws has made the migrant laborers face the tragedy in the pandemic.


In this case the Supreme Court intervened and took over the issue as Suo-Moto. A three-judge bench ordered centre and state to immediately provide transport, food and shelter free of cost to those stranded migrant workers. Despite having so many labor laws the migrant laborers could not access the benefits when required. The appellant court had to intervene and advice the government. The major cause of the crisis is the poor implementation of labor laws over a longer period. It is the responsibility of the labor department and ministry to give proper legislation and lay down the measures for creating coordination systems that could respond to the situations of crisis like COVID-19.


The pandemic crises has amplified the notion we are all affected, but not affected equally.India is in a place where it can reflect and learn from the last two months and adapt its containment and social policy measures to effectively address the exacerbated inequalities. At a time of an unprecedented health and economic crisis,India must mobilise all the policy tools at its disposal to ensure it protects the most vulnerable. The Indian-lockdown crisis has amplified the need for proper labor laws. Even a separate chapter for migrant workers is a need of the hour[10]. The increasing number of migrant workers searching for jobs all over the country is becoming a great challenge. To bring down the laborers migrating from place to place it’s crucial to resolve the key issues. Population control, even economic growth throughout the country, better education system and awareness, abolishing social stratification, spreading out industrialization, even distribution of wealth and welfare should be attained. The constitution has ensured with certain rights or labor rights like right to equality, work, secure work, a living wage, decent standard of life, security scheme, health, freedom, cultural and educational rights, Despite all these laws in support of the migrant laborers they are still the most underprivileged people in the society. They were treated like savages and refugees as if their life doesn’t matter. But, it is a beauty of the Indian constitution to make the underprivileged, the most privileged. Like any of us, they are also entitled to enjoy the benefits of our constitution. Let us hope we’ll not witness a crisis like this ever again.


[1] 50% India’s working-age population out of labor force, says report, THE ECONOMIC TIMES,(Feb 04,2019)

[2] Covid-19: At least 22 migrants die while trying to get home during lockdown, SCROLL.IN (Mar 29, 2020 · 08:32 am)

[3] Sharan Poovanna, around 66% workers lost jobs, 77% consuming less food than before the lockdown: Azim Premji University Survey, LIVEMINT (29 May 2020, 01:55 AM).

[4] Francis Corali V Union territory of Delhi, A.I.R (1981) S.C 746(India).

[5] DK Yadav V. JMA Industries, A.I.R. (1993) 3 S.C.C 258(India).

[6] Gauram bhatia, Coronavirus and the constitution XXXVII:The Pandemic,labor rights,and the Supreme Court’s Judgment in Gujarat M azdoor Sabha, INDIAN CONSTITUTION AND PHILOSOPHY, (Oct 1, 2020),

[7] The Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2019, PRS LEGIALATIVE RESEARCH

[8]  Labor Why India’s Legal and System Needs to be Reconfigured to Really Help Migrant Workers, THE WIRE (May 19, 2020)

[9] Krishnadas   Rajagopal , SC orders centre and the state to immediately provide transport, food and shelter free of cost to stranded migrants, THE HINDU,(may 26,2020),

[10]RoopSen,the crises of the migrant worker in India, THE TIMES OF INDIA(Apr.12,2020),


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