Reverse Migration of Labor during COVID-19 and Response of Government
The imposition of nationwide lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many other issues such as the structure of the health care sector, the digital divide, and unemployment of Migrant Labor in India.
Migrant Labors are those who leave their actual place of residence to find work at some other destination. Migration can be internal where the movement of people is within the national borders of the country and external where people move to some foreign destination to find work.
Before coming up to the position of workers or laborers during the time of pandemic I would like to throw some light upon the employment pattern of India. According to the nature of employment, the workforce can be divided into 2 major sectors Organized and the Unorganized sector.
The organized sector is where working people enjoy benefits such as Job Security, HR policies, Paid leaves, Formal job structures laid down by formal rules and regulations. Jobs included in the organized sector are Government jobs, Service sector jobs such as banking Insurance, Transport, Railways, and corporate jobs. Whereas the unorganized structure jobs include people working based on daily wages, small businesses such as vegetable or fruit vendors, people working as helpers to small scale businesses where there is no employment rule no HR policies, no job security, in fact, many times such workers are told to leave the job when there is no work.
The Economic Survey of 2018–19 said, “Almost 93%” of the total workforce is “informal” but did not disclose its source of information which is highly unusual.
Another form of migration resulted in response to the spread of the pandemic: REVERSE MIGRATION, during this lockdown period, the migrant workers started to go back to their native places as they failed to earn due to lockdown of all economic activities at the place where they were previously working. Now, this reverse migration has brought new challenges as approximately 139 million working population in the country has now become unemployed. The point of concern is not only 139 million people but also the dependent members of their families.
The worst-hit major manufacturing and commercial areas such as Mumbai, Delhi, Ahemdabad, Surat, etc attracted most of the migrant workers from states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Haryana, Punjab, and many more. The majorly affected jobs are from Construction, Manufacturing, Hotel, Tour and Travel, Merchandise trade which accounts for 55.2% of total Urban Unemployment.
Considering the problems related to the migrant workers some important issues to be addressed include protection of their basic rights of food, providing them healthcare facilities, and then comes the most important problem of generating employment for them it again has two aspects either to develop new employment facilities at their home town or to make such arrangements so that they can stay safe at their working place.
These migrant workers have become an integral part of commercial cities as they have now become trained in doing their jobs and are contributing indirectly to the economic development of the country. Also if we consider providing those jobs in their home town so it is not possible to match their skill-related jobs due to uneven distribution of industries in India there may be no industrial establishments in their area at all.
How did the government respond to it?
In line with Union Government’s Advisory, about Rs 5000 crore released from Building & Other Construction Workers Cess Fund to approx 2 crore construction workers; the sector which is estimated to employ maximum migrant workers
Through interventions of dedicated 20 Control Rooms set up by Union Labour Ministry, stuck wages of about Rs 300 crore released to about 2 lakh workers
Under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana with a financial package of Rs. 1.7 lakh crore poor & needy including unorganized workers, 80.00 crore people have been and are being provided Free of Cost 5 Kg. Wheat/Rice and 1 Kg. pulses
Per day wages under MGNAREGA enhanced from Rs. 182 to Rs. 202
SVANidhi Scheme launched to facilitate collateral-free working capital loan up to Rs.10,000/- of one-year tenure, to approx 50 lakh street vendors to resume their businesses
Advisory issued to States in July to nominate nodal officers to coordinate welfare measures and employment of migrant workers and to collate their data for facilitating them in utilizing various Govt Schemes
Immediately after the lockdown, directions were sent from the Ministry of Labour& Employment to all the State Governments/UTs instructing them to provide financial assistance to construction workers from Building & Other Construction Workers’ Cess Fund. It is estimated that the highest proportion of migrant workers are construction workers. To date, about two crore migrant workers have been provided Rs. 5000.00 crores directly in their bank accounts from Building & Other Construction Workers’ Cess Fund being maintained by various States.
➢ To resolve the grievances of migrant workers during the lockdown, the Ministry of Labour& Employment had set up 20 Control Rooms all over the country. During the lockdown, more than 15000 complaints of the workers were resolved through these Control Rooms, and due to the intervention of the Ministry of Labour& Employment more than two lakh workers were paid their due wages amounting to about Rs. 295 crores.
➢After the lockdown, Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana with a financial package of Rs. 1.7 lakh crore was launched to help poor, needy, and unorganized sector workers of the country. Under this package, 80.00 crore people have been provided 5 Kg. Wheat/Rice and 1 Kg. pulses. Free of cost food grains will now be provided up to November 2020 to all the beneficiaries. The Government aims to ensure that no one is without food during this pandemic and challenging time.
➢Per day wages under MGNAREGA have been enhanced from Rs. 182 to Rs. 202.
➢ The government has also announced the measures to strengthen Infrastructure Logistics, Capacity Building, Governance, and Administrative Reforms for Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food Processing Sectors.
➢ShriGangwar further informed that the Government of India has launched PM SVANidhi Scheme to facilitate collateral-free working capital loan up to Rs.10,000/- of one-year tenure, to approximately, 50 lakh street vendors, to resume their businesses.
➢ To facilitate the employment of migrant workers who have gone back to their Home State, Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyan has been initiated in 116 districts in Mission Mode. Under this campaign, rural infrastructure would be built with the involvement of these migrant workers and about Rs. 50,000/- crores would be spent for this purpose. Similarly, many projects involving migrant workers have been initiated for the building of Roads, Highways, etc. by the Transport Ministry to facilitate the employment of migrant workers.
➢A twenty lakh crore financial package under Aatm Nirbhar Bharat has been launched specifically to create employment opportunities, for migrant workers, workers of the unorganized sector, strengthening of MSME Sector, and promoting the rural economy. It includes a plethora of initiatives for all these sectors.
➢ To provide minimum financial assistance to the workers through their EPF Account, the Ministry of Labour& Employment under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana has permitted all the EPF members to withdraw 75% of their total provident fund deposited in their EPF Account. To date, about Rs. 39,000/- crore have been withdrawn by the member of EPFO.
➢ To facilitate migrant workers who are returning to the Destination State for work, the Ministry of Labour& Employment has issued Advisory Guidelines for all the State Governments/UTs on 27th July 2020. Under these guidelines, States/UTs have been directed to nominate a State Level Nodal Officer to coordinate the implementation of various measures for the welfare of migrant workers who are coming back for employment. Further, the State of Origin and Destination State will also coordinate for screening and testing of migrant workers as per the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare protocol. States have also been directed to prepare a proper database of migrant workers for their easy identification and welfare measures among them. This data would also facilitate in enrolling them in various Social Security Schemes of the Government of India.
To sum up I can say that the situation of migrant workers has always been a matter of concern. According to the Census data, the government is aware of the number of migrant workers in India but before this pandemic, no such schemes were launched to provide them job security or to arrange for working opportunities in the area of their residence. Although the pandemic has forced the government to take initiatives for improving the lives of these workers and as we can see crores of rupees have been allotted towards making the lives of these workers better but the results are still awaited. We need to wait and watch if the government schemes can provide job security and job opportunities for these workers at their native place.