About internal labour migration issues: Migrants Are All Of Us

Source: The post is based on the following articles “Migrants Are All Of Us” published in The Times of India on 7th March 2023.

“Tamil Nadu migrant scare: A thin line between nativism and chauvinism” published in the Indian Express on 7th March 2023.

Syllabus: GS – 3 – Employment and GS-1 – Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism & secularism.

Relevance: About internal labour migration issues.

News: Recently, a fake video surfaced in Tamil Nadu containing visuals of migrant workers being attacked by the locals.

About labour migration issues in colonial India

The colonial government never wanted to extend to British India the labour legislations prevailing in the UK. Indentured labour were ‘freely’ kidnapped away from India to several other British-ruled areas including Fiji, Mauritius, West Indies and in Africa. The Indian Penal Code actually provided punishment for workers who escaped servitude.

When the case of indentured labour and their forced migration came to the notice, the Royal Commission of Labour commissioned a study. But the colonial government did nothing to safeguard the interests of migrant labour.

What are the protections available for migrant labour at the global level?

ILO at its 21st session adopted the Migration for Employment Convention, 1939. In 1975, there was the 143rd convention concerning Migrations in Abusive Conditions and the Promotion of Equality of Opportunity and Treatment of Migrant Workers. Recommendation 151 also dealt with migrant workers.

However, all these recommendations were only concerned with the migration of workmen from one country to another country.

How did the government frame policies to tackle internal labour migration issues so far?

After the reorganisation of states on a linguistic basis, different states began to have their own labour legislations.

The government enacted the Interstate Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979. The Act defined an inter-state migrant workman as “any person who is recruited by or through a contractor in one state under an agreement or other arrangement for employment in an establishment in another state, whether with or without the knowledge of the principal employer in relation to such establishment.” Supreme Court also in 1984 said that the Act was enacted to eliminate abuses by the contractors, sardars or khatedars.

Why internal labour migration is essential for India?

a) Migrant workers are the backbone of the Indian economy: No region or sector is immune to dependency on them, b) The internal migration offers a competitive environment for manufacturing especially the availability of cheap labour. Hence, any threat to the migration pattern can potentially upset the economic equilibrium in the states like Tamil Nadu, and Maharastra.

What are the challenges in addressing internal labour migration issues in India?

a) Indian labour laws are almost a century old, b) The problem of internal migrant labour was dealt with only along with the general problems of other workmen in the state, c) In most sectors like coal, steel, docks and plantations the issue was not dealt with.

What are the vulnerabilities faced by internally migrated labours?

a) Easy for local police to make allegations against strangers, b) The respective state governments can frame reservation laws for locals in educational institutions and in employment. For instance, the Karnataka government has framed legislation, c) Locals might complain that the migrant labourers have displaced them in many local employments, d) There are other issues like shelter, civic rights, right to get civic amenities, e) Subnational groups have also stepped up a campaign against the “northern invasion” and f) People from the scheduled areas go to other states and lose their status as a Scheduled Tribe.

What should be done to protect the internally migrated labours?

The problems faced by inter-state migrant labour cannot be addressed only through labour legislation. However, Parliament has to consider special legislation that deals with all aspects of migrant workers’ rights including their security and civic rights and not just the labour issues.

A thin line separates nativism and chauvinism, which can be breached at any time. The political parties need to ensure that this doesn’t happen for political gains.

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