The plight of migrant workers during the lockdown period has necessitated to examine the law prevailing relating to the migrant workmen. We have witnessed reverse migration and the pathetic conditions faced by the migrant workmen in the process. Thousands of migrant workmen started trekking hundreds of kilometres to their villages in spite of the tightened surveillance by the authorities to prevent people from crossing states amid fears that they could carry the virus.

The sudden clampdown throughout the country generated insecurity in the minds of the migrant workmen mostly who are working in un-organised employment such as shop assistants, security guards, cooks and other casual jobs. There is no record maintained with regard to the particulars of such migrant workmen by any of the employers. The only law that is governing the field of migrant labour is The Inter-state Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment & Conditions of Service) Act, 1979. Now the question is as to whether the said Act takes into its fold the grievances of all the migrant workmen mostly those who are working in un-organised employment.

Most of the people migrate from rural areas to urban areas wherein there are green pastures of labour employment in various sectors such as industries, farms, labour markets, hotels, tea stalls and such other allied businesses. The lack of uniform development throughout the country, deficit rainfall in certain areas adversely effecting agricultural activities, stimulated the migration of labour to the urban areas. The largest employer of the migrant workers is the construction sector, domestic work, textile industries, brick kill work, transportation, mines and quarries and agriculture. Most of them are managed by private labour contractors. The migrant workmen can be classified into two categories (1) those who are working in any establishment wherein five or more migrant workmen are engaged and (2) those who are working in petty businesses and jobs. These migrant workers are the most vulnerable group and subjected to opportunistic in difference. The private contractors or any other like source of agencies are not duly identified in case of those migrant workmen falling in the later category. In such crisis as we are facing today, it would be necessary to maintain a record of the migrant labour working in various cities so as to prevent such a huge calamity of reverse migration. If proper record is maintained encompassing various types of migrant labour, it would be easier to protect their interest by the State in such a situation as we are facing now.

The Central government though had directed the local authorities to provide food, sanitation and accommodation to migrate workmen, most of them could not be benefitted for the reason of lack of their identity as migrant workmen. Obviously most of the migrant workmen working in small businesses and works are outside the ambit of The Inter-state Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment & Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 and therefore it has become very difficult to identify them.

The Inter-state Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment & Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 is only the major Act governing the field. The said Act was enacted with a main objective to eliminate the abuses prevalent in the system. In the background of the inter-state migrant workmen who are generally illiterate, unorganised and have normally to work under extremely adverse conditions, it necessitated for passing the said legislation to prevent exploitation.

A reading of the provisions of the said Act shows that the said Act is made applicable only to the establishments wherein five or more inter-state migrant workmen are employed on any day of the preceding twelvemonths. The Act is not applicable to those migrants who are engaged in petty businesses and in fact they are larger in number. The provisions of the Act mandate that the establishments have to get registered with the department if engaging migrant workmen. License is granted under the said Act to the contractors through whom the migrant workmen are inducted by the establishments. The Act specifies duties and obligations on the contractors and also various aspects relating to wage rates, welfare and other facilities to be provided to the inter-state migrant workers. Most of the obligations are cast upon the contractors only. Therefore the identity of those migrant workmen who are working in any establishment as defined within the ambit of said Act can easily be established.

Since the Act is limited in its application, it does not take into account the spread of migrant labour in the major cities engaged in small businesses. There is no record pertaining to the migrant labour engaged in petty businesses and works. The Act as stated above speaks only with regard to the duties and obligations of a labour contractor and to some extent establishment in which the migrant workmen are engaged.

The definition of migrant labour of the said Act is a very confined definition. It defines inter-state migrant workmen as a person who is recruited by or through a contractor in one State under an agreement or other arrangement for employment in any establishment in any other State whether with or without the knowledge of the principal employer in such establishments. This definition shows that it does not take into its ambit the various migrant labour spread in various mega cities working in small businesses and doing petty works. Most of them are migrated to the cities in such of employment directly without approaching any contractor. The Act does not take into its fold such migrant labour and therefore there would not be any record available in relation to such type of most spread and un-organised migrant labour and their identity cannot be easily established.

In the type of calamities which we are facing today, the migrant workers try to go back to their village where they have homes, food and support systems from close-knit communities. Since their identity is already established in their villages, the feel secured if they return back to their villages.

In order to pass on the benefits provided by the State to minimise the plight of the migrant workmen, a proper record fully containing the particulars of the various types of migrant workmen who are working in petty businesses and works irrespective as to whether they are engaged through a contractor or not has to be maintained and the same would resolve the problem of identity of such migrant workmen. There has to be a comprehensive legislation contemplating maintenance of records and creating obligations upon the employers who are engaging migrant workmen in small businesses and works in big cities. This would benefit such class migrant workmen who are outside the ambit of The Inter-state Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment & Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 and to some extent may eliminate the fear of lack of identity generated in their minds.

Chittarvu Raghu, Advocate, High Court’s of A.P. & T.S. craghuadvocate@gmail.com.


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