Arjun Kumar, Ritika Gupta, Sakshi Sharda, Sunidhi Agarwal, Chhavi Kapoor
Keeping the migrant workers issues at center stage and recognizing the social and economic cost of COVID-19 Pandemic IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute , Working Peoples’ Charter and Indian Social Institute organized a Panel Discussion on Migrant Workers, Labour Rights, Policy: Impact and Way Forward.
Adding to the discussion Mr. Sandeep Chachra, Executive Director, ActionAid India; Co-Chair, World Urban Campaign, UN-HABITAT stated it is difficult to separate migrants from informal workers. An attempt for the same is politics in the negative direction. Informal workers in India constitute 6 percent of the global population and a third of the Indian population. It is not advisable to separate the two, the focus must be on unmasking the issues of informal workers.
Beyond an Apology
There is a specific history of informal sectors. We cannot be oblivious to questions of Caste where the majority Dalits constitute workers. There are various kinds of apologies that are due to this section of the population. The advisories to Human Rights Commission is on the question of very very vulnerable workers on the frontline that is the sanitation workers, burial ground workers, caste-based sex workers (even though Ambedkar eloquently pointed that this work was not of choice but a necessity), etc.
The next question specific inequity comes from gender. The domestic workers are triple embattlement with the intersection of various issues. Work participation rates of women have fallen during the pandemic, their work has been underpaid as pointed by Prof A V Jose and unpaid work is a reality. Policies can no more be oblivious to the glaring impacts of patriarchy.
The last specific history is the consequence of colonization. What de-colonization mean? What would be a transformative understanding of work? To encapsulate indigenous workers at the earliest. The question of indignity cannot be forgotten. These are questions that are conjoined with neoliberalism to result in imperialism.
Any transformation of hard-earned labor rights can be evaluated on four dimensions. First, wage, both minimum wage and floor wage do not deal with questions of reasonable wage and there is a need for wage compensation. The second dimension is conditions of/ at work. Labour codes tend to legitimize in one way or another these glaring inequities in a micro reading of the labor codes. The third dimension is the question of labor rights and human rights. Today we have the new phenomenon of neo- bondage or contractual bondage.
Labor rights have been watered down for three decades in the country today. There is an unfulfilled desire for social security in India and social safety in India. Beyond limited gains that have been made by construction workers that to in the account of charity, all other trades and sectors have no way out and no possibility of compensation.
The Way Forward
We need a dual strategy. There is hope in people coming together. The fundamental premise of any policy stands on apology to balm the history of exploitations. The informal workers in India are owed an apology from national elites. This would be the first step towards and reconciliation and transformation. The second step would be incremental gains towards entitlements which are a necessity for human dignity. Justice requires more and economic transformation is fundamental which will have two trajectories, first the unfulfilled agenda of land reforms and the second is the question of ownership.