Shreya Chauhan, a 3rd year Law student from Amity Law School, Delhi deliberates upon the issues faced by migrant labourers and the violation of their human rights amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic COVID19 is continuing to have widespread influence on workforces globally, but migrant workers are bearing the chief impact of the crisis. Inadequate and packed living conditions, limited access to healthcare, and exploitive labour systems are few of the factors which have made workers disproportionately at the risk of exposure to infection. Many of the migrants are not able to afford the rides back to their states. Making their situation worse, many state governments under the fear that the returning migrant workers would increase the virus spread further has left them stranded. Although the quick response to the pandemic has reduced the widespread infection, it has also created concerns about aggravating existing inequalities and vulnerabilities.
Today our nation and the entire globe are battling an incurable disease which till date has no specific vaccines or medications. COVID-19 is a disease that has put the whole world into a standstill. Talking about its effects on humans groups, the pandemic has caused a significant impact on our hardworking labourers. They travel from one state to another to secure their families with food and clothing.
To save the citizens of the country our Prime Minister abruptly announced a lockdown on 25th March which got extended as the effects of the deadly viruses began to spread. The extended lockdown while desirable for India trying to reduce COVID-19 spread, but it underestimated how vulnerable, and unorganized the migrant workers in the country continue to be. This extended lockdown made the workers of the country worried that they are going to be struck for three weeks, and their daily wages would suffer a lot. They were stuck at the place where they have no money to feed themselves, and they can’t reach out to their families at this time.
ISSUES FACED BY MIGRANT LABOURERS
A large number of migrants began undertaking their journey to their village or state by foot helpless, and disappointed. Lack of cash in pockets, being jobless, and with public transport that has been shut down, hundreds of migrants had to cover hundreds of miles on foot back to their home villages with some dying during their journey. According to a media report, a total of 140 people died in road accidents across India since the lockdown was announced. 30% of them were migrants who were walking or trying to reach their home states by concealing in buses or trucks.
There are children of these workers who are left behind by their parents who undertake employment elsewhere. These children are dependent on remittances sent back to their homes. In many parts of India daily allowances is the primary source of income for the nourishment of the families. Then there are those children who migrate with their parents when they leave the city for their job. Because of the lockdown, their parents’ pending wages will only exacerbate their living. They might have a long-lasting impact on their health and overall well-being.
A vast majority of migrant families in India are employed in the agricultural sector. This extended lockdown may cause the risk of nutritional insecurity in these families. Nutritional insecurity causes adverse health effects in the short term as well as long time. The workers are also haunted by the fact that they might get infected and if they leave one place they might not be allowed to re-enter it by their landlords or employers who have given them places to live. A labourer from Uttar Pradesh stranded in Gujarat allegedly committed suicide as he was in despair that he did not have work and he could not return home.
On May 7 2020, 16 migrant workers who took their journey to their homes were killed by goods train. These innocent migrant workers were resting at a train track after walking a day from Jalna to Aurangabad. While in Bengal and Bihar migrant workers staged a protest demanding transport facility for travel to native places and the supply of adequate rations during the lockdown. There are situations where the migrants have registered themselves in rented accommodations but got no information about their transport from the government.
HUMAN RIGHTS OF MIGRANT LABOURERS
The Human Rights of migrants include the right to work and receive wages that contribute to an adequate standard of living. Along with these rights, migrants have an indivisible and universal right to return home whenever he wishes. Unfortunately, these rights of workers are being violated unintentionally due to COVID 19 outbreak. The lockdown announced by the government has put the workers in a kind of hostage situation where they can’t earn wages or even return to their homes. We must realize that along with the economy of the country, this outbreak has an impact on the socio-economic sector of the country too and takes measures for the same. There were reports of police officers beating migrants for breaking quarantine and dousing migrant labourers with disinfectants which is very degrading and exploitive of human rights of these workers. Forcing the labourers to stay can be inferred as bonded labour treatment. Hence, a proper commitment to save the Human Rights of these vulnerable groups is required urgently from the government.
SUPPORT AND FUNDS BY GOVERNMENT (STATE AND CENTRAL)
Ministry of Home Affairs has authorized state governments to use their disaster response funds amounting to Rs. 29,000 crore to aid migrant workers. The funds had helped states to support these workers by giving them shelter, food, and medical support. However, this is not enough as there are still workers who are stranded from their homes.
However, many states have exhibited higher standards of human values when they extended their help to migrant labourers in their respective states, Kerala, Telangana, and Odisha are few of them who have been successful in bringing their migrant labourers in their state and taking proactive steps to address the issues of its migrant workers. The Jharkhand Government launched ‘chief minister’s special assistance scheme’, a mobile app to help with the registration of stranded labourers. But the present situation demands fair implementation of schemes and distribution of funds. State Governments must have complete data of the migrant workers. Only then they would be able to negotiate better.
The labour force of migrants in the construction and manufacturing sectors is essential for economic development in India. The migrant workers are completely excluded from the safety nets as they are entirely exposed to the infection and other accidents. The predicament of these migrant workers must be treated as a humanitarian crisis requiring crucial attention. The state government has to effectively develop mechanisms to transport these migrants back to their villages. Interstate coordination to exchange data is essential at this time.
The Central and State government have received an order from Supreme Court regarding the plight of migrant workers according to which no fare for train or bus shall be charged from migrant workers, along with food and accommodation for workers who are stranded. An active, orderly, and planned management of migrants is essential at this point of time.
A fresh focus to bring these labour workforces within social, economic, and health security protection. A great start can be made by providing them with social security under Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maandhan. Along with this, there must be a political willingness to protect the rights of labourers for ensuring their welfare. Only by ensuring social protection, food security, health, education, financial inclusion of these labourers the goals of migrants’ well-being can be achieved.
Shreya Chauhan is a 3rd year Law student from Amity Law School, Delhi
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