COVID 19 Lockdown for Human Rights of Migrant Labourers

The author of this blog is Shailee Mishra 2nd  Year B.A.LL.B.(HONS) student at the University of Allahabad.

 I. Introduction
Migrant workers comprise a large part of the informal sector of India’s economy. They contribute almost 50% towards Gross National Product.[1] A report of the Committee on Unorganized Sector Statistics 2012 says that they comprise 93% of the total workforce.[2] There are many legislations made for them, their wording condition, social security, etc. However, there is no law made for jobless migrant workers leaving cities. After having such a large workforce there are no legal protections given for these informal sectors of migrants.
Devoid of legal protections, they are left to serve for themselves during the serious pandemic COVID-19. This needs quick assessment because a report of Periodic Labour Force   Survey 2017-18 reveals information that 71.1% of the workers doing job in non-agricultural sectors do not have any a written contract of job and 49.6% were not entitled to any profit of security and 54.2% were not entitled to paid leave.

A.   On March 24, 2020, the Government declared 3 weeks country-wide lockdown to stop the transmission of coronavirus outbreak. This outbreak has effectuated every sector, every marginalized community. Many of them have lost their food, their livelihood, their shelter, and other pre-requisites. Thousands of people have come home on foot as road transports and railway passenger services have been canceled amidst the lockdown. Now, these people will need social, economic, health, and other protections. The extensive closure of borders of all of the states has caused disturbances in the supply of all requisite goods. The government has an obligation for the protection of the health and well-being of the population of the country. But Govt. authorities need to urgently adopt measures to protect the poor people at risk.
Meenakshi Ganguly[3], South Asia director at Human Rights Watch said the government is paying all efforts to prevent the spread of this pandemic but authorities must recognize anorexia and should assure that the alienated don’t carry an unfair onus from lack of indispensable supply.

B.   What lacks in the informal sector & how it can interfere with their rights

·         Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 of India[4]: This act was sanctioned for the investigation and settlement of industrial disputes. But, this act does not apply to the unorganised sector. It only applies to the organised sector. Thus, asserting that migrant workers will be provided with any social insurance to deal with the recent situation may not seem much practical.

·         Minimum Wages Act of 1948[5]: According to Economic Survey 2018-19, this act has not been effectively enacted in various parts of the India i.e. it does not cover all waged workers of India.

·         Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, 1979[6]: It made compulsory registration of inter-state migrant workers, but not the workers themselves.

·         Unorganized Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008[7]Under this act, about 5% to 6% are enrolled for social security and only insist on scheme-based welfare regime.

·         Social Security Bill, 2019[8]: This Bill is silent and applies to provide social security and provident fund for the migrant workers but is left to the discretion of the states.

These were some legal frameworks and statutory provisions which demonstrated as what all securities are available to workers of the informal sector. In all of these statutory provisions, we seldom found any beneficial provisions for those whose jobs are unsecured. This, in turn, points out that the COVID-19 lockdown may come up with a bundle of insecurities for the migrant laborers. The issues for the concern may be of balancing their social condition, sustaining economic condition, health issues in the remotest of the areas. In some cases, they have been treated with an inhumane attitude by the cops. If we take into account all these things and presume that these are not taken care of in a sufficient manner, it may lead to a gross human rights violation of those people.
No insurance scheme has been brought forth exclusively for unorganized sectors and there is no data available on migrant workers’ securities as informed by Government authorities before the Lok Sabha[9].

II. issues with migrant’s welfare
Migrant workers face harassment and ill-treatment by urban employers, middle-class shopkeepers, residents as well as police officers. Lack of alternate livelihoods, skill development are the primary causes of migration. From rural areas to urban areas.
Most of the accountabilities are as follows: 
·         Lack of awareness: they must aware of their rights as workers as well as rights as migrant workers.
·         Work harassment: those labor agents who coerce workers to work with payor they do not pay a minimum wages which are stipulated by law.
·         Sexual harassment: possibility of sexual harassment of women at workplace.
·         Health risks: lack of access to social security to migrant workers due to procedures of administration.
So, these are some difficulties faced by the migrant workers in movement from one place to another.

III. What should be done to protect these sector’s workers
·         The government should not use any identity card biometric authentication for the distribution of essential goods.
·         The Government should pay all the remaining wages for all sector workers whether formal or informal under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act[10].
·         The government should order to act with restraint for enforcing the lockdown and should ensure the public to not gather at one place in large no.
·         It is advisable that in this difficult time Government should not classify workers in different sectors and there should be only one class of workers.

·         Urgently extend the coverage of social protection schemes and other relief and economic assistance packages to disadvantaged groups in the informal economy, and ensure timely delivery of quality services to the workers and businesses concerned.[11] It is supported by “Countries that had already invested in expanding social health protection coverage have been able to respond more rapidly and inclusively.”[12]

·         There must be statute-based welfare scheme which empowers both state as well as centre.

·         There must be employer-employee relationship to provide social insurance.

·     Minimum wage should be granted by the state i.e. authority should ensure minimum definition of social insurance to all.

To die from hunger or from the virus is the situation before the laborers of the informal sector. In such the tragic situation, the authorities should take all necessary steps to prevent the spread of the coronavirus but it must be assured that marginalized section of society is not mistreated and discredited i.e. it should not come at the cost of human rights violations.
The requirement of family members of migrant workers, including infants, children, adolescents, older ones who tailgate these workers need to be addressed primarily because a major portion of economic growth pivots on the mobility of these labor. The augmentation of migrant workers to national income is massive and in exchange of this, they get very little maybe it is their security or well-being. There is an immediate requirement to change migration into a more dignified and rewarding contingency. Almost in the absence of these making growth inclusive, sustainable will remain very far away.

·         Specific policy interventions and priority need to be given because internal migration in India is very large.
·         Policy makers and Government authority should play a vital role in ensuring that migrant workers undertake safe migration are aware of their rights and have access to welfare schemes and social insurance.
·         Suggestions to develop a framework of policy which gives priority to migrant workers and to promote decent life in India can be given.
·         Strengthing the role of panchayats and all other local authorities in registering migrant workers.
·         Universal registration of these workers on a national platform is must.
·         For inter-state coordination, some institutional mechanism must be established.
·         Skills training to adolescents and young workers should be provided.
·         Education and health-services at the worksites should be provided.

[1] 'Covid-19: Define Social Security for Migrant Workers | Opinion' (Hindustan Times, 2020), available at;<>(last accessed 10 May 2020).
[2](, 2020), Available at;<>(last accessed 10 May 2020).

[3]'Meenakshi Ganguly' (Human Rights Watch, 2020), available at;,( last accessed 10 May 2020).

[4] 'Industrial Disputes Act, 1947' (, 2020), available at;,_1947, (last accessed 10 May 2020).

[5] 'Minimum Wages Act, 1948' (, 2020) available at; (last accessed 10 May 2020).
[6] (2020) <> accessed 10 May 2020.
[7] (, 2020) <> accessed 10 May 2020.
[8] 'India: Social Security Code Bill, 2019 | Lexology' (, 2020) available at; (last accessed 10 May 2020).
[9] CL Manoj, '‘Cover Unorganised, Migrant Labourers Too’' (The Economic Times, 2020) available at; (last accessed 10 May 2020).
[10] 'Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act' (, 2020), available at:, (last accessed 10 May 2020).
[11](2020), available at; <>(last accessed 10 May 2020).