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MIGRANT WORKERS IN INDIA: CHALLENGES DURING COVID 19 AND AMENDMENTS IN LABOUR LAWS

Updated: Jul 29

[Authored by Yashwardhan Bansal, a 3rd year BA LL.B. (Hons.) student at School of Law, CHRIST (Deemed to be University), Bangalore.]

India is a developing nation in which the majority of the population is dependent on daily-waged works in the unorganized sector like domestic help, construction work, agriculture, and selling daily use goods. “In India approximately 98.3 million people migrated in different levels between the years 2001-2011.”[1] The different organizations claim that the data seems to have surged by 30% approximately between the years 2011-2020. The migration is seen in different layers like between states, within states, between districts, within districts, and even internationally. The movement from one place to another in search of work by workers is very frequent due to rampant poverty and lack of opportunities in rural areas. “In India 88.3 million workers migrate from rural areas in search of better life and work to sustain.”[2] These workers face various challenges during the migration period and even after migration. The society in place of migration doesn’t accept them, shelter, lack of food, work, and health care are the most common challenges they face. They lack social security and proper payment of wages for their work. Even the working conditions are miserable with no proper safety measures taken in industries and other places of employment.


During the period of the COVID, 19 outbreak of India the situation for the migrant workers has worsened due to many other developments. The workers are impacted psychologically, economically, socially, and emotionally. COVID 19 being a communicable disease, tends to affect individuals in public and the workers tend to be working in public places. The impact on migrant workers of COVID 19 can be analyzed in two folds. The sudden and delayed impacts are experienced by different workers. The sudden impacts are fear, feeling of helplessness, lack of resources, and chances of getting infected by the coronavirus. The sudden impacts are caused as migrants are not familiar with the surrounding where they temporarily live. The workers are neglected and the neglect by the local population tends to fill them with fear. Lack of information and availability of resources make them restless and they tend to make wrong decisions. The migrants are forced to leave for their place of origin as they lose their source of income due to lock down and shutting down of different market premises. The increasing panic amongst workers and lack of resources to sustain forces them to move to their comfort zone which is their home town which was banned due to lockdown.


The challenges which migrant workers face while traveling to their native place are coercion by the police and administration in different places. The exploitation by owners of different modes of transportation like truck drivers, bus companies, etc. by charging unreasonable amounts is another issue. The checking at every state borders and seeing each migrant worker as a coronavirus patient is another problem. The people moving on foot or in the cycle are impacted by the warm winds flowing during scorching hot summer in North Indian states as the summer season is at its peak. The struggle causes the death of numerous migrant workers even before they reach their destination.


The delayed impacts are struggle to reach home, treatment of infection, and other health issues, acceptance in native place, domestic violence, death, and fatalities in the family. The delayed impacts are caused due to continued spread of the virus, lack of support from the government, fear amongst the population as they are seen as agents of virus and lack of employment or sources to earn living in native place. The struggle to reach the native place is another delayed impact. The impact of the virus gets traceable after weeks from the time of a person catching the virus so the chances of the whole family getting infected are high. Lack of availability of proper medical facilities in rural areas further impacts the workers even after they migrate to their native place.


The challenges faced by migrant workers that have stayed in the urban areas and are working in different industries and economic institutions are different. The working conditions are worse now as the chances of the contracting virus have increased. The wages provided to the workers are less. The payment for the lockdown period which is mandated by the government to be paid is not paid by employers. The fear of losing employment and exhaustion of savings has made workers more vulnerable and forced to compromise over their rights. The living costs like rent, water, electricity, EMI’s, etc. haven’t reduced and with lower pay, the workers suffer to meet the ends.


The government has reacted to the widespread of the pandemic in various folds. The changes have directly or indirectlyaffected migrant workers in both positive and negative ways. The union government is providing ration without the ration card which has been a step favorable to migrant laborers. Making ration free in ‘Ration shops’ has made the life of various daily waged workers easy. Many labor laws in India have been brought down by states for various reasons. “The states that have brought different amends in labour laws are Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh.”[3] The amendment has been made for months and even for a period of three years in many cases. “An increase in working hours in factories from 8 to 12 hours and a working of 72 hours has been made legal by the legislature depending upon will of workers.”[4] “The pay for extra hours is not mandatory and not enforced by law.”[5]The registration of factories be completed in one day and the renewal of licenses will be required in 10 years instead of a year. “Majority of provisions of legislations like Madhya Pradesh Industrial Relation act, Factories act, standing order act, have been amended for a particular time period.”[6] These amends have been brought to encourage investment, protect employment, bring transparency, and increase the revenue of the state.

These amendments aim to protect the rights of migrant workers and industrialists on paper. If one tries to analyze the ground reality then it can be concluded that the exploitation of workers will increase as administration by different government agencies will be more difficult and the workers won’t be able to reach out to the administration. The chances for industrialists and employers to gain higher profits will increase and the gulf between haves and have-nots will tend to widen. These changes have been brought without any ground-level study or gathering of data. The bases behind them are mere speculations that stand to be highly redundant.


In a nation like India in which the majority of the population is dependent on a few industrialists and job providers, the laws should favor the majority of workers. The migrant workers give up their native land, families, and past to move and work for capitalists in urban areas. They are illiterate and lack the understanding of the rights they have. It is important that the state being the guardian of law should provide for the protection of migrant workers as they stand to be most vulnerable in these harsh times. The industrialist and employers who have always been benefiting to a greater proportion from the labor put in by different workers should make sacrifices to protect the workers in difficult times. It sounds really ideal for expecting people to sacrifice their wants for the needs of others though in order to grow out of such difficult times such sacrifices become essential.

[1] Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, https://censusindia.gov.in/Data_Products/Data_Highlights_link/data_highlights_D1D2D3 _. pdf [2] Census of India 2001, Data Highlights, Https://censusindia.gov.in/Data_Products/Data_Highlights/Data_Highlights_link/data_highlights_D1D2D3.pdf [3] Ashima Obhan and Bambi Bhalla, India: Suspension Of Labour Laws Amidst Covid-19, Obhan & Associates, , (18 May 2020), https://www.mondaq.com/india/employment-and-workforce-wellbeing/935398/suspension-of-labour-laws-amidst-covid-19 [4] Relaxation in labour laws due to COVID-19 outbreak and their impacts, Civil Daily, https://www.civilsdaily.com/news/relaxation-in-labour-laws-due-to-covid-19-outbreak-and-their-impacts/ [5] Prabhash K.. Dutta,, Coronavirus lockdown and a tale of labour reforms sans labourers, (15th May, 2020), https://www.indiatoday.in/news-analysis/story/coronavirus-lockdown-labour-reforms-migrant-workers-1678324-2020-05-15 [6]Atul Gupta, Labour Reforms In The Age Of Covid-19: What’s The Right Balance?, (13th May, 2020),  https://www.bloombergquint.com/coronavirus-outbreak/labour-reforms-in-the-age-of-covid-19-whats-the-right-balance *THE IMAGE USED FOR THIS ARTICLE IS TAKEN FROM DECCAN HERALD.*

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