The rights canvas has widened to capture the migrants- Prof. K R Shyam Sundar

Arjun Kumar, Ritika Gupta, Sakshi Sharda, Chhavi Kapoor, Nishi Verma

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.

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Moderator Dr. K R Shyam Sundar, Professor, HRM Area, XLRI – Xavier School of Management, Jamshedpur, Jharkhand pointed out that May Day 2021 is not just about the workers, it is about people’s rights, it is about people’s lives and livelihoods. The rights canvas has widened to capture beyond the working class to include migrants, farmers, daily wagers. 

Absence of Data

For migrant workers, the first glaring gap that hits is the complete absence of data. The conversation around migrant workers has become mainstream due to COVID-19. It is after 10 months of misery the government and its think tank Niti Ayog have now come with the draft migration policy and 5 surveys. The labor minister acknowledged in the parliament that to set up a consolidated database on migrant workers would take the government 6 months. 

Keeping this in mind we will probably have a ready database by the end of 2021, this announcement is still not clear, whether for data collection the census method, or sample method is being followed? Whether the objective of the exercise is to arrive at an estimate or to identity on a census mode? 

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Important Questions

At this time it is important to ask if the Draft Migration Policy is a good daft indeed. When is the final policy to be expected? Has the government consulted the trade unions and all stakeholders? Can the government record person-to-person migrant workers on a data portal in order for the state and central government to provide direct benefit transfers? Does migration have a gender element? Are the labor codes (still have not come into effect) any respite to the existing labor laws which are still on record?

With the second wave, we are staring at the possibility of a reverse exodus of migrants again from cities. There have been reports in national dailies from major urban centers like Surat, Mumbai, and Delhi even though the state and central government continue to deny the same. There has been a spike in the demand for jobs under MGNREGA. Delhi Government has already provided Rs 5000 to construction workers from the construction cess fund. 

Way Forward

Agreeing with Prof A V Jose he agreed that the term precariat could not be a better fit for any other demographic population. In order to provide the range of entitlements, there is a need to concentrate on the countryside. Only then can the people take the rational economic decision whether to migrate or not to migrate. They should not fall prey to distress migration. It is a question of empowering people to make rational economic decisions. First, we need to strengthen the rural economy and then there would not be a surplus of migrant inflow in urban centers and they could now account for the migrant population. 

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Speaking to the intervention for social revolution by Ms. Amarjeet Kaur and called for a shift from the social movement to the people movement. In this time the broad social movement the trade unions the classic vanguard of people’s movement alongside the farmer movement should have the widest participation. The economic and social policies followed by the government dilute human rights. 

The improtant question is work an economic and social choice? Given the histories of inequality and inequity, the sustenance of ‘dirty work’, the embodiment of patriarchy in Indian economy, the Hobbesian questions of indigenous entitlement to ownership. There is a need that stakeholders contribute to the correction of historical inequities. Corrective Actions is not the right way to speak of it but is a moral liability of national elites. 

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