Lot more needs to be done for migrant workers over next six months, say experts

The New Indian Express | May 18, 2020

Visuals of migrant workers walking long distances to their native villages with little food or water suddenly made the unorganised sector visible.

BENGALURU: Visuals of migrant workers walking long distances to their native villages with little food or water suddenly made the unorganised sector visible. Now that they are being allowed to go back, migration and labour experts say there is a lot more to be done in the next six months. Vasantakumar Hittanagi, former joint labour commissioner of the union government and former CEO of BOCW (Building and Other Construction Workers) Welfare Board for Karnataka said, “According to the Unorganised Workers Social Security Act, 2008, around 94% of the workforce is in the unorganised sector.

The law provides for the registration of all workers and providing them with smart cards which state governments have not done. They faced a problem as all the states needed a database during the lockdown to reach out to them. Out of fear, migrants headed home where they can sustain for a while. But it is only a matter of time before they return to eke out a living.” “People won’t return immediately as they have had a harrowing time.

However, they will return in six months as they are used to circular migration. MGNREGA needs to be strengthened in states by ensuring payment of wages on time and also taking up asset-based work,” said Dr Tina Jacob, assistant director, government relations, International Justice Mission. “There is a risk of workers falling into the trap of bonded labour right now. The government must ensure that labour rights are protected. Many workers went home without wages during the lockdown. The destination states need to attract workers by ensuring timely wages,” Jacob added.

According to Rajendran Narayanan, faculty member, Azim Premji University, MGNREGA does not provide ample opportunities as only 100 days of work are guaranteed per household, irrespective of the number of members in it. “The number of days and the work need to increase in villages. As for small towns, what we need is an urban employment guarantee scheme including construction work and restoration of green spaces, undertaken by urban local bodies. Ration should be made universal for the next six months as food security is critical,” Rajendran said.