Migrant and Unorganised Labour

India’s unorganized workers make up 82.7% or 39.14 crores of the total 47.41 crores estimated employed persons, according to the last NSSO Employment and unemployment survey 2011-12. The contribution of the unorganized or informal sector to the economy, according to a National Statistical Commission report of 2012, varies between 48% and 56.4%.

As the economy struggles with the lockdown an attempt of suspension of labour laws  to push the laboring class out of whatever little security they had, is the feature how government incentivize economic activity at the cost of working class.

Labour laws are a conglomeration of close to 250 Central and state laws that grant protection to the labourer by regulating fair wages, conditions of work, overtime, leave, and social securities through employment security.

The Factories Act, the Shops and Establishments Act, The Minimum Wages Act, and the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 are the principal Acts that are subjected to undergo dissolution and suspending them is the violation of Constitutional provisions and International Covenents (International Covenent on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) that gives rights to workers to unionise and bargain for fairness.

According to a 2010 Oxfam report on ‘Social Discrimination in India’, Dalits and Adivasis constitute the “highest proportion of the population” in the informal sector workforce, with 89% of them distributed across four poverty groups: the extremely poor, poor, marginal and vulnerable. Also the report says, 85% of Muslims in the informal sector “find themselves in the lowest four income groups”. The hardest hit will be the 95% women working in the informal sector.

Migrant labour has been among the worst affected due to lockdown. It suggests that they have very low resilience to stay in cities without employment. They fall through the cracks of India’s social security net.

A key piece of legislation governing inter-state migrants in India is the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979. The Act was enacted to prevent the exploitation of inter-state migrant workmen by contractors, and to ensure fair and decent conditions of employment.

This Act is simply not in use as compliance would have been the reason of more hiring cost of inter-state labour than hiring within state. Whatever may be the reason this Act needs probe in or to find other provisions in this Act or in some other Act to protect the interest of the inter-state migrant worker.