Labour Law for Migrant Workers and its Enactment: Reality and Liability

Harasankar Adhikari

Migrant workers of India are considered as the ‘builders of our booming economy.’ The Census Report 2011 estimated that India had 5.6 crore inter-state migrant workers. It has significantly increased after almost a decade. They are mainly from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Madhyapradesh, and West Bengal. Their place of migration is usually Delhi, Maharastra, Gujrat, and Karnataka. Their social and working condition is usually not so good. They are mainly informal and unorganized daily wagers, and they engage under contractors whether licensed or not.

The union government of India enacted the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 with an object to strengthen labour rights and justice. In its introduction, the Act explains, ‘the inter-state Migrant Workmen are generally illiterate, unorganized and have normally to work under extremely adverse condition and in view of these hardships, so use administrative and legislative arrangements both in the state from where they are recruited and also in the state where they are engaged for work are necessary to secure effective protection against their exploitation.’

But what is its reality and practice, when they have to face the worst adversity during this pandemic crisis? No provision of this act was followed, while it ensures, every contractor under whom migrant workers are engaged should be obtained a license from the appropriate authority. The conditions of getting this license is that “the contractor should be declared the process of recruitment, hours of work, fixation of wages to be paid to these migrant workmen, the date from which it is due, and their entitlement to a displacement allowance, suitable residential accommodation, adequate medical facilities and protecting cloth.” This act also prescribed to the appointment of an inspector by the appropriate authority to ensure compliance and punishment as non-compliance is fairly stringent (including imprisonment).

This Act is under the custody of the lawmakers and the enacting authority. Even, migrant workers are ignorant about this Act. So, they face a hopeless and helpless situation in the wake of this pandemic tell the truth.

Further, it was noticed that to strengthen migrant labour rights Union Government of India introduced the Occupations Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2019 in the Lok Sabha on July 2019. It is nothing but it subsumes and replaces 13 labour laws (including the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979).  This code prescribes the provision relating to the entitlement of migrant workers (engaged through the licensed contractor) ‘to receive a displacement allowance equal to fifty percent of the monthly wages payable to them.’  This code was referred to a standing committee towards the end of 2019 for the detailed report and recommendation unanimously by the state government.

The harsh reality is that government would hardly be enacted it. Will the experience from this crisis help to wake up the government? Or it would be exempted for the sake of the interest of corporate. And migrant workers (the worst suffering section) have to face adversity as usual because they have no alternative.

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Aug 4, 2020

Harasankar Adhikari

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