Migrant Workers May Get Some Relief Through The New Labour Code
By Subrata Majumder
The jittery government acknowledged its failure to address the plight of migrant workers during COVID 19. The labour code included special provisions for protection and social welfare benefits to the migrant workers in Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020. It is not the first time that law was enacted to protect them. In 1979, it launched Inter-State Migrant Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Services) act in 1979. But, it seems the law was conveniently forgotten.
Migrant workers are indispensable for India's economic achievement. In all major sectors, migrant workers played important role. Infrastructure, labour intensive industries and export oriented industries are the cases in point. Notwithstanding, bare attention was given to their welfare and protection. It was only after the outbreak of COVID 19, plights of the workers hogged the limelight, which became a wake up call for the authorities. Politicians upped the ante and the policy makers were on toe to mitigate the ire.
Fearing a damage to Make in India and the political outreach, government passed Occupational Safety, Health and Working Condition Code 2020 in Parliament. It subsumed Inter-State Migrant Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Services) act in 1979. For the first time, migrant workers were provided social welfare benefits in the new code, besides protection. The code included benefits of Public Distribution System, Provident Fund and Employees State Insurance Schemes to the migrant workers. The law stipulates that suitable conditions of work, medical facilities, housing and journey allowances should be provided to the migrant workers , drawing less than Rs 18,000 per month.
According to Census 2011, there was a total of 56 million inter-state migrant people. Of this, about 33 percent were migrant workers, according to Prof. Amitabh Kundu (RIS). In other words, India had 19 million migrant workers in 2011. They mostly originate from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar , accounting for 25 percent and 14 percent respectively.
The main principals of the code, inter-alia, which includes Inter-State Migrant Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Services) act in 1979, are that every contractor has to obtain licenses from the State authority where the worker belongs and from the authority where the worker is employed. The code stipulates that the remuneration to be paid, fixation of wages and other essential services to be provided should be explicitly mentioned in the contract agreement. The code lays down that the inspectors from the home state should visit the working place to ensure the compliance of the law, which was rarely followed. The code raises the hope for migrant workers to be covered by Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Scheme, which hitherto was dubious.
There is a caveat. How far the new code will succeed to deluge social welfare benefits to the migrant worker, depends on how it is strictly enforced. The new code bill puts onus on employers to extend the social benefits, like Provident Fund and Employee Insurance facilities. Given the mandatory provisions of licensing where the contractor, who supplies workers, should obtain license from both State government where the worker belongs and the State Government where the worker will work, it leverages a major scope for vested interests and collusion between employer and contractor . Unless the regulation is implemented by iron hands, migrant workers will be deprived of the benefits.
China is a case in point. Its failure to provide welfare facilities to its rural migrant workers can be a lesson. China has three welfare schemes for rural migrant workers. They are health insurance, workers' compensation and old-age pension schemes. Only one third of the rural migrant workers can avail the benefits. One of the main reasons for the failure was low enrollment of rural migrant workers in the welfare schemes. In 2017, only 22 to 27 percent were the enrollment rates of the rural migrant workers in three welfare schemes. It was due to low abide by of the contractual agreement, which the employers should sign with the workers. Only 35 .1 percent rural migrant workers signed formal employment contracts with their employers in 2017, according to a survey. The trend witnessed declined from 42.8 percent in 2009. This backfired the wage rates and wage growth rates which are lower than urban private companies.
There was a growing despair in Chinese government for its failure to protect the migrant workers, despite having the legislations. China launched its social security regulation for migrant workers in 2003. But, that did not work well. Exasperated China invoked a stricter law to protect the migrant workers from the default of payment of wages during the outbreak of COVID 19. Chinese Premier signed a State Council decree to publish the legislation, guaranteeing the payment of wages to migrant workers. The law was effective from May1, 2020. According to the law , both government officials and employers are responsible and punishable for the default in payment of wages to the migrant workers .
Prime Minster Narendra Modi launched a scheme for employment opportunities to the returnee migrant workers in June 2020, entitled "Garibi Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyan". He announced an amount of Rs 50, 000 crore for building durable rural infrastructure under the scheme. The new code is a timely attempt to reinforce the scheme, with the legal overrides and will unleash resilience to the migrant workers in the unprecedented economic downturn. (IPA Service)