Migrant Labor Crises in India


The COVID-19 crisis has finally forced India to acknowledge the migrants. Suddenly, India seems to have woken up to look at the plight of its internal migrants which are working in the unorganized labor sectors for decades. These millions of workers have moved from state to state looking for the opportunity to earn their livelihoods. This pandemic made us realize that no section of the people is left unaffected though the scale of this issue may vary from state to state, country to country, or city to city. But if we look at this international pandemic situation calmly then we will get to know that it had its greatest impact on the migrant’s labor. No journalist or social media activist, a politician in opposition or the one who is having power, state or central government has taken immediate action regarding this labor crisis. The Bihari man giving its services in Delhi, the Bengali painters and electricians working in Mumbai, Chhattisgarhi brick workers providing service in UP or roadside vendors in Delhi whose homes are in Rajasthan, has taken a long journey on foot besides this the migrant workers also expose the link between labor and the work security, as well as the faulty and leaky system of food distribution, was also revealed.

Alarming Death Rates

16 migrant workers who are working in a steel factory in Maharashtra were on the way to return their home in Madhya Pradesh fell asleep on the railway tracks and were brutally crushed to death by a goods train. In another incident, five migrant workers died when the truck that carried them met with an accident. Now the question arises – Whose duty is to think about migrant workers? Whose liability should it have been to organize transport for them to return home with safety and precautions to prevent coronavirus transmission? Is it the responsibility of the sending state where these migrants homes are or the duty of the receiving state where these workers work? Or is it only the duty of the Center government?

The most obvious answer to the above questions is that it is the duty of the Labor Department and Ministry.

Labor – Subject of Concurrent List

Labor is subjected to a concurrent list which means the central government and the state government both have the jurisdiction to legislate and act. Now, the government, policymakers, economists, and others have taken the migrant workers under the limelight and they know that they cannot take migration lightly or migrants for a ride. Hence, it is not the duty of the central government alone to provide monetary funds, food security, etc. to the migrant workers but it is also the duty of the receiving state as well as it is the responsibility of the states from where the migrant had traveled. The Interstate Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service Act), 1979 also have some good provisions on how the labor department of each state can monitor and ensure protection from abuse and exploitation of migrants who are recruited, transported and supplied to employers in the unorganized labor sector though this provision has gone unimplemented for more than 4 decades and thus resulting in lack of protection and safety of the vulnerable migrants in India.

Economy Impact on Migration

May 1 is celebrated as Labor Day around the globe but this year, the COVID-19 crisis is revealing the painful reality about inequalities towards humankind. The impact of migration on the economy may vary widely from country to country or state to state due to the COVID-19 situation. This economic crisis could be long, deep, and pervasive when viewed through a bigger lens. Travel bans, social distancing, and lockdowns have brought global economic activities to halt. Host countries would likely face additional challenges in many sectors, such as health and agriculture that depend on the availability of migrant workers. Migrants face the risk of coronavirus contamination and also the permanent loss of employment, wages, and health insurance coverage. The migration and development studies provide a forecast that how this migrant labor crisis might affect the global trend in International Economic Migration and Allowances in 2020 and 2021. Thus, migrants’ remittances provide an economic lifeline to poor households in many countries therefore a reduction in remittance flows could increase poverty and reduce access to much-needed health services. Hence there is a need to give proper attention to migrants labor crises as well while fighting a war against COVID-19. Thus, the government needs to address the challenges faced by internal migrants by providing them proper health facilities, food, shelter, wages, and salaries and should protect them from discrimination.

Drawbacks from the Government’s side

The India lockdown crisis has raised the call for of Ministry of Labor and Employment to necessarily write a separate chapter for interstate migrant workers and include all workers from the unorganized sector. The legislation needs to distinctly lay down responsibility and accountability measures of state labor departments and make a proper system of coordination to handle these similar situations crises like COVID-19. The interstate migrant workers are a group of most vulnerable workers in the country, they not only lose overnight income but also suffering from homelessness, with no food and travel facility rendering young children and senior citizens to starvation.

Wages or No Wages?

The home ministry made it legally mandatory for salary and wages to be paid even during the lockdown period yet many of our disgraceful capitalists did not even pay wages for the month of March not even for the days the laborers had worked. For instance, in Tamil Nadu, a survey found that 63% of laborers had not been paid wages that they owe from their employers before the lockdown. In Gujarat, the diamond industry has not been paying workers despite repeated orders by the government. Though some State Governments, NGOs, Middle-Class Volunteers, Political Parties and even the Police on their part have been busy feeding migrant worker meals yet this charity is not enough and the need of employers is very essential. The employers who are not giving salary or wages to the laborers are mostly small businessman rather they seem to have a small mindset also. These capitalists also have refused to bear the cost of paying even a month’s wages to the migrant laborers who are the engine of their enterprises. Though the poor migrants are unaware of their rights they also have the right to punish their employers for not giving them proper salary or wages in such kind of situation.


Now we would like to conclude that a pandemic of this scale is usually feared because it exposes the limitation of public health. However, in India, COVID-19 has exposed the condition of the labor force. The role of migrants played in the Indian economy is underestimated we as a country have failed to recognize their contribution though we have a knowledge that they existed we never acknowledged that they are quantum. More than a hundred million workers have reportedly lost employment. If we look at the data collection it does not allow us to know the exact number of migrant workers in this pool. The total workforce of India around 90% is informal which means that they work without social and employment security. Why we don’t read any social media posts or tweets from these hundred and thousands of people who are migrating the answer to this is that they do not have access to social media, the truth is that they actually don’t know that they have a right to protest and demand these poor services under Article 21 of The India Constitution, while the rest of the nation was “staying home and staying safe” these workers are the ones who are badly hit by the international coronavirus pandemic.

Author: Umang Bhatla,
Delhi Metropolitan Education affiliated to GGSIPU, 3rd Yr.

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