Migrant Workers

Relevant Data:

Out of India’s total workforce of 471.5 million, only 12.3% are regular workers receiving some form of social security, while the rest are mostly casual workers or petty producers surviving under various degrees of informality (figures for 2018). A vast majority of migrant workers belong to the category of informal casual workers. Available data on the size of the migrant workforce in India are rather patchy. According to the 2011 Census, there were 54.3 million persons (workers as well as non-workers) in the country who migrated from one State to the other. The ‘heartland’ States of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh accounted for 48.9% of these inter-State migrants, much higher than their combined share in India’s population (of 36.8%).

Though there is a lack of updated data on the same, estimates suggest that there are between 100 million to 125 million people who leave their villages, families and homes to find work far away wherever they can find it. 

Data from the National Sample Survey and the India Human Development Survey (IHDS) show that these migrant labourers are mainly from rural areas in poor regions and States, and belong to the poorest socio-economic classes. Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes are over-represented among them.

Nearly 81% of wage workers even in non-agricultural sectors do not have any contract with their employers and enjoy no security of tenure.

The recent Periodic Labour Force Survey conducted in 2017 by the National Sample Survey Office of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, had estimated that there were around 1,49,53,750 urban workers who had vulnerable jobs. These workers included helpers in a household enterprise and who did not receive a regular salary and casual labourers who received daily wages; besides this, the number considers only those in the bottom 50% of the wealth pyramid in 2017-18, based on their monthly per capita expenditure. This number extended to an estimated 2.5 crore people if those who had salaried jobs but did not receive any paid leave and other benefits were included. Migrant workers numbered more than 81 lakh people among this segment.

Problems migrant workers face –

  • A rare written contract.
  • A minimum, regular wage per month is legally required but seldom paid.
  • Irregularity in payment of wages – in many cases the payment at the end of the season is often less than what was agreed.
  • Lack of transparency in accounting — excessive, arbitrary and unexpected deductions from final payments are common.
  • Emotional and cultural detachment.
  • Lack of a sense of belonging.
  • Due to a lack of regular income, labourers borrow from local moneylenders leading to cyclic indebtedness.
  • Long and irregular working hours. 
  • Lack of adequate housing, sanitation facilities, electricity and potable water. 

Most vulnerable sections:

Data from the National Sample Survey and the India Human Development Survey (IHDS) show that these migrant labourers are mainly from rural areas in poor regions and States, and belong to the poorest socio-economic classes. Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes are over-represented among them. They form the largest section of child, bonded and trafficked labour. They predominate in activities that are characterised by three Ds — dirty, dangerous, and difficult — and consistently face a fourth D — discrimination.

Way ahead –

  • Effective public policies are indispensable; a regime of social policy, pivotal for a minimal welfare state must be installed to address the basic needs of all Indian citizens, not only during pandemics but for all times, to meet any contingency. 
  • The fight against the pandemic can only be built on a vision of a society that is inclusive, equitable, and non-discriminatory. India needs a unified labour market and universal social security system which can ensure security, safety, and dignity to all workers. 
  • We need to plan for an economic growth driven by rising — and not stagnant — wages, and a development model that is dispersed far and wide across the country, and not centred in a few big cities.
  • The rise in rural incomes has not kept pace with the rising number and aspirations of young people in rural areas. The rural areas must be the area of focus to ensure equitable development.
  • What is needed is a massive expansion in government spending, which will uplift workers’ skills as well as their incomes and purchasing power. This will include investments in healthcare, education, roads, rural infrastructure, agricultural research, public transport, and so on — perhaps similar in scale and ambition to the post-war reconstruction efforts in western nations following the Second World War.

Practice Question: The already deprived segments of the society are the most vulnerable to migration as informal workers. Do you agree? Give reasons. Also highlight the problems migrant workers face. – 250 words.