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Critical Evaluation of Draft National Policy on Migrant workers

Synopsis: NITI Aayog has released a draft National Policy on migrant workers. Though it is well-intentioned, it fails to address the policy misrepresentations which is at the root of migrant workers’ issues.

Introduction 

The suffering of migrant workers during the pandemic raised awareness about their scale, vulnerability, and role in the economy. It also led to several measures taken by the central and state governments.

Read moreDraft policy on migrant workers

  • Niti Aayog prepared an umbrella policy document for migrant labourers, including informal sector workers. 
  • The draft policy provides a perspective on recognising the scale and role of migrant workers. It states that a complete policy must be viewed from a “human rights, property rights, economic, social development, and foreign policy lens”.

What are the features mentioned in the draft policy?

It states that a rights-based and labour rights perspective built around the core issue of the dignity of labour must be the principle of policy. It should meet ILO commitments and the Sustainable Development Goals.  

  1. Firstly, the document appreciates the magnitude of the migrants and their role in the economy. It also finds that the present data fails to capture the growth in their numbers. 
  2. Secondly, many sources of vulnerabilities of migrant labourers have been described in the document. It includes:
    • Their invisibility and political and social exclusion to informal work arrangements.
    • Exploitation and denial of labour rights.
    • Lack of collective voice, exclusion from social protection arrangements.
    • Formal skills, health, education, and housing.
  3. Thirdly, it identifies the transferability of social protection, voting rights, right to the city. It recognizes health, education and housing facilities as key issues to be dealt with. 
  4. Lastly, it proposes a governance structure with the Ministry of Labour. It will act as a focal point for inter-ministerial and Centre-state coordination. It also proposes mechanisms for coordinating the effort on inter-state migration. 

What are the issues missed by the draft policy?

The draft misses recognising and addressing many critical issues.

  1. First, gaps in development and inequalities have grown constantly in the last 3 decades. It requires corrections in the development strategy without which migration is bound to grow unchecked. The report did not acknowledge this.
  2. Second, the report fails to recognize the root cause of the uneven urban development strategy. The urban strategy has marginalised the poor and the migrants. 
  3. Third, the report has denied approaches that rely on cash transfers and special allowances. The denial of the first approach has resulted in ignoring the migrants’ and informal workers’ right to social security. 
  4. Fourth, the biggest weakness of the report is its approach towards labour rights and labour policy. It puts grievance and legal redressal above regulation and enforcement.
  5. Lastly, the labour codes which are promoting ease of business, have shifted the balance firmly in favour of capital. This weakens the bargaining power of labour and further weakens an already drained enforcement system.

The way forward

  • The draft policy identifies the problems but fails to address the policy distortions. However, if the draft will be opened up for further discussions and feedback, it will enrich and complete what is already a significant beginning. 
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