Posted on: September 30, 2020 Posted by: Radhamani Saxena Comments: 0
Author: Sruthi Kannan , Student at Kerala Law Academy Law College (University of Kerala)
ABSTRACT

The world is currently hit by a deadly pandemic that is worse than a famine, cyclone and even an earthquake. In the wake of the COVID-19, the most affected section is the marginalized section of the society which majorly includes migrant workers. The paper throws a light on the major issues faced by these workers relating to food, shelter, healthcare, financial crisis, the fear of getting infected and spreading the disease.

The paper also highlights all the major remedies provided by the Indian government to help these migrant workers and the paper also questions their enforceability. The paper will also deal with the loopholes in the applicability of these remedies and the lacunas on government’s part in their application.

All of the remedies, issues and suggestions are on one side and the real feelings and thoughts of the migrant workers are the main target to be highlighted by the paper. The paper will explore the viewpoints of the migrant workers on their pitiful plight by assessing the interviews conducted by various news channels and other mediums. Many of these workers are stuck on State borders due to different sets of reasons. The paper looks forward to highlighting these reasons too.

The paper also focuses on outlining the major difficulties that this class of citizens will face as the labor laws have been revoked for longer durations in many parts of the nation so as to bring back the acceleration in the economy and development of the States. These laws protected these laborers from exploitation at their respective workplaces which are now evidently revoked hence, opening the doors of discrimination and exploitation at workplace for these workers.

These workers migrate from their native states or districts in search of work and a source of income. Now due to lockdown, their daily wages have ceased leading to anxiety and mental stress as their families are completely dependent on these wages. The paper also tries to throw a light on these psychological issues faced by these workers amidst the lockdown period.

Since tough times call for finest measures and support; the paper also focuses on suggesting major loopholes in the present remedies and required amendments to make these remedies more effective and beneficial to the migrant workers.

Towards the end, the paper suggests alternate measures that can be taken up by the government to ensure speedy recovery of the working environment for these workers and various other significant actions that can be implemented by the government to eradicate the issues faced by these workers and to supply them ample job opportunities.

INTRODUCTION

Migration for work has been the trend in India even before independence. There is nothing in this world one would not do to provide food, shelter and safety to their family. Family is the only thing in the world where one loves selflessly and utilizes their complete potential to provide them their necessities. Generally, workers migrate from their native cities and states in search of work and it is evident that the sole reason for them working is their family. The workers either migrate permanently or temporarily depending on the quality and type of their job. Some farmers migrate seasonally for work when the crops that they cultivate are off season; hence, they do menial jobs in the off season to ensure their survival and consistency in their livelihood. The permanent settlers are those that don’t have much at stake in their native lands such as property and other assets and get placed into a decent job that pays them worth it all. In the 2011 census[1] it was revealed that 37% of the entire population of India is migrants. The recorded reasons are innumerable but majorly the reasons amount to work and employment but for the female section, its marriage.

The policy of migration is well sought among the urban as well rural regions of the nation. The recent pandemic which is at the moment at peak in our nation, making us one of the worst hit nations globally, the problem of migrant workers stole the limelight. Numerous poor migrant workers came out collectively and demanded to be transported to their native cities and states so that they can get back to their families. This act of the workers arose numerous oppositions as it increased the probability of countless fresh Covid cases which was the least that our nation required. The workers went rogue and started to walk barefoot for hundreds of kilometers to reach their native places. They came out with their small babies and kids and travelled relentlessly to accomplish their goals. At last, the government gave up their cool and tried their best to provide the means of transport to these workers to their native places so as to avoid worse situations.

We will further discuss all the issues faced by the workers, the remedies provided by the government, and everything else concerned with this certain theme in the paper in detail.

MAJOR ISSUES FACED BY THE WORKERS

Eli Khamarov quotes’ “Poverty is like punishment for a crime you didn’t commit.” The present plight of the migrant workers evidently portrays a real life picture of this quote. Due to the lockdown and many other restrictions imposed on the citizens to control the spread of Covid-19, the most affected class is the poor section of society. To be precise, in this section too the most affected class is of the migrant workers. They are facing many major issues which are even affecting their right to livelihood guaranteed by the Article 21 of our Constitution. Some major issues faced by these workers are as follows:

  1. FOOD: These workers generally migrate in search of work so that they earn enough to have 2 meals a day. They generally earn daily wages but now as the lockdown has been imposed on the whole country and there are wages for them; they don’t even have the money for a single meal for a day. What worse we as humans can experience if we don’t even have food to eat? Their whole families are dependent on their wages. The biggest issue faced by these workers is the lack of income hence lack of food. They are not able to feed their families at all which is why they are willing to travel bare foot to their native villages or towns where they might discover better circumstances.
  2. SHELTER: Since, all these workers migrate from their native towns and villages; they don’t have self-owned homes or rooms for shelter. Buying a house in a metropolitan city is next to impossible for a daily wage worker; they live in rented rooms. Due to the lockdown, their source of income has been cut off and they are unable to pay the rent, where they can live in their ancestral homes. We can’t even imagine the pain that they are going through and the sufferings are unbearable.
  3. HEALTH CARE: In this era of the deadly pandemic; Covid-19, the workers are travelling in groups to their native places making it much more fatal for them as they can easily transmit the disease while travelling. There are 95% chances of them getting affected and further spreading the disease to their family members and becoming the carrier of the disease to their native places. This will not affect the Covid stats of the whole nation, but the life of many citizens is being put to danger. This Pandemic has already affected millions of people worldwide and has resulted in thousands of deaths, which is already very depressing and these health care issues are also evident in our country due to lack of resources and the workers’ will to move to their native places for food and shelter.
  4. FINANCIAL CRISIS: The workers are cut off from their jobs hence they have no living learning leading them to a black hole of poverty and financial crisis where they have to achieve or earn but only to lose more and more. The middle class and the upper class are also facing this issue but they will recover as soon as the lockdown is opened and the restrictions are dissolved but this class of migrant workers will not be able to recover easily as they have no fixed earning sources.
REMEDIES PROVIDED BY THE GOVERNMENT

To control the nationwide outbreak of the novel coronavirus and at the same time to provide means of transport to the migrant workers, the government came up with numerous remedies. Some of the most significant remedies provided by the government are as follows:

  • The Prime Minister launched the “Atma Nirbhar Uttar Pradesh Rojgar Yojana” and promised that the scheme will provide employment to migrant workers who have just returned to their native states. The estimated no. of jobs generated by this scheme is as high as 25 Lakh.[2]
  • The Indian Railways stated that 57 lakh migrant workers had been transported by Shramik special trains in the last 33 days. This was stated officially on 3rd June, 2020. These trains mainly originated from states like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab, and Bihar.[3]
  • Every State government tried to provide free food to the workers whose wages ceased due to the nationwide lockdown. To illustrate, the Assam government provided free 10 kg rice to workers in their state.[4]
  • The Government has also launched a time bound “Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyan” to provide employment to the migrant returnees and to facilitate rural employment. This campaign is estimated for 125 days.[5]

The above mentioned are some of the major remedies provided to the migrant workers by the government. These remedies have not been discussed in detail as the motive of the paper is   to analyze everything from the point of view of migrant workers and not the government. Even after providing so many remedies to the workers, their suffering is still consistent due to the evils like corruption prevalent in the society. The government needs to solve all the potential loopholes in their schemes and try to enforce them more effectively and more stringently.

MIGRANT WORKERS UPFRONT VIEWS

“I just want food and shelter and nothing else.” This has been the statement[6] of almost every migrant worker and every poor person in the present stage of Covid-19. I had a casual talk with the lady that works in my house for sanitation purposes. We obviously had her removed during the pandemic, but one day she came asking for a salary in advance so that they could travel home. My mother convinced her to stay where she is so as to prevent getting affected and promised to give her money regularly for help. She only wanted food and her rent to be waived off. My mother even spoke to her landlord and was convinced to waive off rent for all the tenants that reside in his property. This mere act of kindness proved to be effective and she stayed where she was. This is the only potential demand and need of all these poor migrant workers to stay indoors.

Many workers were stuck on state borders as the state authorities didn’t allow these workers to encroach in their territory believing that these workers could be the potential carriers of the coronavirus. These workers were already very disappointed and depressed with their plight and then these barriers worsened their conditions. The workers were starting to get more and more restless as they were very curious towards meeting their family members and a place for shelter and food to eat. The situation started to worsen even more when the workers started dying due to the scorching heat and over exploitation of their own potentials. The government was trying their best to provide means of transport to these workers and their families keeping in mind the norms to avoid the spread of Covid-19.

All that these workers had ever wanted was food and shelter. The consistent interviews of the workers travelling, only pointed out these two assets and evidently these are the only major requisites for a human being to survive. This problem of the workers was solved miraculously, by putting in endless efforts by the government. The problem can never be solved one hundred percent; hence it’s important to note that there are still workers out there suffering with no hopes of recovery. The only question that arrives at this juncture; how will the government manage re-transportation of these workers from their native places when they will demand the same? It is very obvious to note that, one day workers, maybe not all but some of them will ask to be re-transported to their workplaces so that they can start earning again for their living. Most of the migrant workers belonged to states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The only answer that we are getting from the workers for every reason is food and shelter.

LABOUR LAWS

To bring back the acceleration in the financial market and economy of the nation, state governments of many states have decided to suspend some prospective labor laws. If these laws were so insignificant why were they even legislated at first? The labor laws have been in existence, even before independence. These laws were legislated then to protect the Indian laborers working in the British factories and companies from exploitation. Labor laws have changed consistently with the changing society. These laws have always been given prime importance since they protect the laborers from exploitation at their workplaces. The exploitation can be anything or any act that infringes the fundamental rights of the workers. The working class of the nation has always been the most under-privileged and even after legislation of so many laws that limits working hours and defines working conditions of the laborers, the workers are suffering. Now, that the laws are revoked or suspended[7] For as long as a period of 3 years in states like Uttar Pradesh, it is understandable to note that this suspension will pave the way for potential exploitation of workers. These workers are generally uneducated and unaware of the legal provisions in their favor; one or the other way they suffer.

On 2nd May, 2020, the Uttar Pradesh government officially released an ordinance stating that they will be suspending some labor laws for a period of three years and this will be applicable to all the units and companies involved in the manufacturing business. Uttar Pradesh is one of the most prominent epicenters for the companies to set up their manufacturing business in this particular State due to various reasons such as availability of ample amount of labor in the State. The suspension of these laws has judiciously increased the working hours of the laborers.

The state government of Madhya Pradesh released a similar notification on 5th May, 2020 stating the new provisions and regulations applicable in the State. Likewise, other states like Gujarat, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh released their official notifications stating their new provisions.

The laborers lack legal knowledge, hence, they have to bear it all hopelessly. The suspension has received mixed views. The manufacturing company partners and owners are the chief supporters of the suspension whereas Non-profit organizations and labor unions are opposing this suspension on the grounds that this suspension infringes the fundamental rights of the workers in the factories. The central government also holds mixed views depending on the particular issues raised.

PSYCHOLOGICAL DILEMMAS OF WORKERS

There is a very wise saying of Gautam Buddha; No one can save us but ourselves. This might be crossing through the minds of the migrant workers while travelling that only and only they can protect themselves and no one else can; they started travelling collectively. The various issues faced by them have already been evidently discussed in detail in the paper. There are many psychological dilemmas[8] too that have been tampering the minds of the migrant workers. Due to the nationwide lockdown, the workers were completely cut from their wages and means of living. It is true that the lockdown was critically very essential to undermine the spread of the novel coronavirus in the nation. Since their earnings were ceased, the workers are going through periodical anxiety attacks and tensions as their families were completely dependent on these wages. The workers are experiencing mental stress which is not good for their well- being as they are humans too like us. No human deserves to go through such hard times with no hopes of recovery.

The plight of these workers is very pitiful. On one hand they are stressed about the wages and on the other they are facing the pressure to sustain the livelihood for their families. The need of the hour is the good recovery policies to be enforced by the government without any lacunas and corruption. Today, materialistic things aren’t at stake but numerous human lives which are much more valuable than anything in this world. It is the duty of the government to ensure eradication of these psychological problems for the workers by providing them the assurance that the things will get better and the government is working endlessly for their well-being. At the end of the day, the government was formed for public welfare and the migrant workers constitute a large percentage of this population which needs to be taken care of.

SUGGESTIVE MEASURES TO COMBAT THE ISSUES

Henry Ford almost always quoted that, “Don’t find a fault, find a remedy.” Hence, to tackle the present issues all that the government can do is, start looking for appropriate remedies and make sure that the migrant workers are not forced again to come out collectively. This can be done by catering their needs in a suitable time frame. It is crystal clear that the demands of the migrant workers are not something that needs to spill oceans or conquer mountains. They plainly need food, shelter and an assurance of safety. These are the minimal needs that a human being expects from its government. It is now on the government how they prove these commodities. The workers nowhere state that they want it all without any labor; they are ready to work for their living. But the question again remains the same; how will the government manage to provide work to all the laborers after experiencing such a downfall in the economy.

Some of the suggestive measures[9] are as follows:

  • The government should provide efficient food security to the migrants as no human being can survive without good nutritional food.
  • The government should acknowledge the fact that the migrant workers play a major role in establishing the economy of the nation. It is true that this pandemic has made the nation acknowledge this section of society which earlier was neglected. It is now the government’s duty to provide these workers with ample social security by implementing respective policies and provisions for the same.
  • Another important commodity is shelter. The government must make sure that no migrant worker is left to suffer on roads without any means to shelter. They should try to build shelter homes for these migrants where they can live by paying minimal rents which are affordable for them with their little wages.
  • The government must also work in the area of providing job security and payment of wages on time. Legislating laws is not the solution but enforcing them strictly is one step in the correct direction. The suspension of the labor laws by State governments clearly shows how selfish the government is when it comes to the financial sector of the nation. The central government must take corrective actions for the welfare of these workers, as they too belong with us.

There are many things that the government can do for these workers to uplift their status but the above mentioned are the most important keeping in mind the full blown economy of the nation.

CONCLUSION

Growing up, we were all taught that, “Where there is a will, there is a way.” The migrant workers practically proved this as they came out on roads protesting. They even started to walk barefoot to achieve what they sought to, and in the end the government had to support them and provided free means of transport to all these workers. The workers reached their native places safely with the means of transport provided by the government. But it is eminent to note that the workers just reached their native places. The issues faced by them are still prevalent and require immediate attention of the officials. These issues are not very tough to comprehend and can be easily solved by the government if they closely monitor the practical applications of their schemes.

It is also important to note that this pandemic has caused a psychological setback in the minds of the migrant workers and most of them aren’t planning to migrate again in search of work from their native cities. They are expecting that the government should help them establish employment and jobs in their native cities.

Everything is tolerable, but injustice isn’t. It is now high time that we as citizens start acknowledging the migrant workers and their role in the nation. They should be treated equally like other citizens. In other words, the workers still have a long fight ahead and if we can help them even minutely, we must not hesitate. The day is not far when these workers will bring about a revolution in the nation.

REFERENCES

[1] Data on Migration 2011, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, https://censusindia.gov.in/2011census/migration.html

[2] PM launches ‘Atma Nirbhar Uttar Pradesh Rojgar Yojana’ for migrant workers, National News, All India Radio News, 26 June, 2020, http://www.newsonair.com/News?title=PM-Modi-launches-Atma-Nirbhar-Uttar-Pradesh-Rojgar-Yojana-for-migrant-workers&id=392265

[3] 57 Lakh migrant workers transported so far by Shramik Special Trains, says Railways, National News, All India Radio News, 3rd June, 2020, http://newsonair.com/Main-News-Details.aspx?id=390297

[4] Mizoram: Migrant workers getting free rice under the central scheme Atma Nirbhar Bharat Yojana, State News, All India Radio News, 19th June, 2020, http://newsonair.com/News?title=Mizoram%3A-Migrant-workers-getting-free-rice-under-the-central-scheme-Atma-Nirbhar-Bharat-Yojana&id=391749

[5]Jal Jeevan Mission offers huge opportunity to migrant returnees, National News, All India Radio, 5th July, 2020, http://newsonair.com/News?title=Jal-Jeevan-Mission-offers-huge-opportunity-to-migrant-returnees&id=393022

[6] Harish Pullanoor, Interview: ‘Migrant labourers now have an opportunity to punish their employers’, Scroll.in, 20th May, 2020, https://scroll.in/article/962366/interview-migrant-labourers-now-have-an-opportunity-to-punish-their-employers

[7] Ashima Obhan and Bambi Bhalla, India: Suspension of Labour Laws Amidst Covid-19, Mondaq, 18th May, 2020, https://www.mondaq.com/india/employment-and-workforce-wellbeing/935398/suspension-of-labour-laws-amidst-covid-19

[8] https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/RevisedPsychosocialissuesofmigrantsCOVID19.pdf

[9] S. Irudaya Rajan, The way forward on migrant issues, Frontline, 9th May, 2020, https://frontline.thehindu.com/cover-story/article31516414.ece/amp/

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