How migrant labourers could impact the industry

By 13 Jul 2020

Following the exodus of migrant labourers from metro cities during the nation-wide lockdown starting 25 March, which resulted in the loss of jobs for more than 12.2 crore people during April- May 2020, Sanjay Gupta, vice-president, DS Group India, suggests promulgation of stringent laws to protect workers’ rights.

Sanjay Gupta, vice-president, DS Group India

As per the Economic Survey (2017), there are approximately 42 crore internal migrant workforce in India, out of the approximately 20% (10 crore) are migrant workers. A study by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) and Azim Premji University in 2019 estimates that 29% of the population in India’s big cities is of daily wagers. Relatively less developed states, such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have high net immigration. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar account for the origin of 25% and 14% of the total inter-state migrants, followed by Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, at 6% and 5% respectively.

 There are three types of migrant workers:

1. Permanent migrants

2. Seasonal migrant

3. Casual migrant  

Status

There had been a status quo in last seven decades (since 1950) for migrant labours as they were not on Indian social-economic-political landscape. It is estimated that there was a mass migration of around 1.5 crore people during the 1947 division but this time, it is at a much larger scale (at least five-six times higher). As they have no savings, no homes, no dwellings, no resources of long-term living, they had to go through immense hardship. Practically, they are nobody’s children; they are neither here nor there. There is no state or central registry for compiling their data.

The governments in India clearly have no systematic understanding of their existence and scale. As they migrated, neither native politician nor migrated politicians are interested in their welfare as they do not vote anywhere. This is one of the core reasons no one, central/ state/ local bodies thought for their welfare before lockdown and it took a sizeable 40 days to start first Shramik train.

They are not even a beneficiary of PDS (public distribution system). They are deprived of taking subsidised ration from states ration shops as they have come from a different state. Recently, one nation-one ration card system has introduced wherein they can avail subsidised schemes under the central government’s National Food Security Act (NFSA). Still, they are not entitled to have subsidised schemes granted by state governments as they are treated as ‘not son of soil’.

As per CMIE (Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy), in April- May 2020, around 12.2 crore people have lost their jobs. Three-fourths are small traders and wage labourers. Labour force participation rate for Indian woman for the past 20 years is decreasing badly. Interestingly, it has just acknowledged that they are also important, as they contribute around 10% of the Indian GDP. They are also important in the circulation of money as they work, earn and do remittance to their homes/ villages (approximately Rs 60,000-crore).

Structural issues resurfaced

As suddenly, invisible become greatly visible, not only in India but on liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation (LPG) landscape:

Following this, laws, regulations and reforms, which exist in the system but not being implemented, have resurfaced which will definitely be having serious consequences. It is high time to work in this direction for creating proper insulation and work plan for future:

• Articles 14, 15, 16, 19 (1) ( c), 24, 38 (2), 41, 42 and 43(a), which talk about rights or labour rights, like the right to equality, right to work, right to secure work, a living wage and a decent standard of life, security scheme, health, right to form an association, right to freedom, cultural and educational rights, etc.

• Factories Act (human conditions)

• Industrial Dispute Act

• Minimum Wages Act (support Article 21 Right to life, 23 Right against exploitation)

• Inter-State Migrant Workman Act 1979 (regulation of employment and conditions of service) Act mandates that labour contractors who export workers to other states have to register at both ends and take licences.

• Those who employ more than five migrant labourers are duty-bound to provide proper wages for (1) housing (2) medical facilities, (3) passbooks, (4) displacement allowance, etc.

State government stand

After this crisis in March and April, some state government took a controversial stand:

Uttar Pradesh: All labour laws except two-three to be suspended for three years. Even basic safety and health facilities are also suspended

Madhya Pradesh: Labour laws to be suspended for 1,000 days

• Gujarat: Labour laws to be suspended for 1,200 days

• Assam: Fixed-term employment is to be implemented. All are contract workers/ not at par with permanent workers

Counter-statement

As India is a part of International Labour Organisation (ILO) since 1919, who is responsible for framing legislations for these migrant workers, recently all trade unions of India have formally lodged a complaint with ILO against changes in labour laws overnight (challenging ordinances passed by state governments to dismantle labour reforms — how constitutional guarantee given to Indian labour can be withdrawn for the first time in the history of India).

Above labour laws are suspended in lieu of 2005 Disaster Management Act but it is also being argued that above constitutional guarantees can be suspended in external aggression or war and not in the pandemic. Further, High Courts and Supreme Court can also make Directive Principles of State Policy as part of their judgement.

Current Legislations (Labour Reform Laws)

Currently, for effective enforcement, 44 existing central labour laws are proposed to be condensed into the following four codes:

1. Wages. Already Passed.

 The following labour reform laws have already been put up in Parliament and are supposed to be passed and implemented in due course after clearance from parliament standing committee.

2. Industrial Relations (labour and capital)

3. Occupational Safety, Health and Working Health

4. Social Security — 15 laws clubbed (PF/Medical/pension/leave encashment for all part-time, casual, contractual, fixed-term, domestic, home-based)

It means that contractual workers will ultimately be betrayed at par with workers on a roll.

Conclusion

Because of the above-stated reasons, all four pillars — Legislature, Executive, Judiciary and Media of our Constitution — have no other way out but to awake to come forward, form and implement labour reforms laws and offer Indian migrants a better social safety guaranteed protection fall back for their return. Laws should be formulated on a relatively faster pace and should be implemented strongly.

As the Central government has increased allocation of Rs 1 lakh-crore under MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) to boost employment in villages, migrant workers shall get jobs in native place, and will have no attraction towards metros. With shortage of workers in the metros, urbanisation may take a hit. (Marketing opportunities might increase manifold in rural areas as they are used to buy branded products in their respective metros from there they have migrated and search the same in their villages.)

The Parliament’s Labour Committee will most likely pass a law to allot a Portable Social Security (PSSN) number which is to be linked with Aadhar unique identification number. Here the intention is also to break contractor net and workers may be contacted directly. Responsibility shall shift to employer.

So, as stated earlier, keeping in view above factors in mind, it is suggested to chalk out a detailed action plan regarding working on numbers of workforce required over a period of time — their identification, less dependency on contractors, manpower cost working, their skill development programmes, labour laws enforcement and compliant framework and automation, which will facilitate seamless and economical law aiding smooth working.

(Sanjay Gupta is VP, corporate procurement and packaging development, DS Group, Noida. An experienced marketer, innovator and disrupter, Gupta has been a part of the DS family since 2001. He has worn various hats before his role in DS. He headed the marketing and operations at Stellar Industries from 1986. At DS, Gupta took up packaging procurement for the now USD 1-billion company. With innovation and dynamism as his core persona, Gupta heads the DS’s packaging development lab. It is his firm belief that an industry leader must first lead with innovation that has led many, many packaging success stories for the company.)

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