Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, 1979 only on paper: Cause of distress in Indian migrants

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Vijaya Ramachandran
Vijaya Ramachandran signed this petition

It is a reality of India that landless people from villages migrate to different states in India in search of their livelihood. Most of them end up working in the construction and brick-kiln industries in big cities. The construction industry is the second largest industry in India. These people who build mansions, offices and high-rise buildings for others live in shambles in make-shift housing, without proper potable water, toilets, and basic safety measures. Their children’s education is in the bleak for the reasons mentioned below.

The workers are compelled to use the muddy water (meant for wetting the soil for brick making) for all their needs. Water used for cleaning their utensils, washing their clothing and bathing is to be occasionally used for drinking purpose also. They live in pathetic abysmal conditions in spite of having crores of rupees collected in the form of cess and earmarked for their welfare, as stipulated in the provisions of the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act 1979. The aforesaid Act also contains provisions for various facilities to the vulnerable migrant laborers but the reality is that this Act is only on paper. The Prime-Minister of India and the Minister of the Ministry of Labor and Employment are urged to take immediate cognizance of the utter sad state of affairs of the migrant laborers, particularly in the city of Kanpur where our NGO is working since 25 years where we find that they live in inhumane conditions. Repeated requests and petitions to concerned authorities are ignored may be because these people are not the vote banks to our politicians in our system.  

This is an attempt to use the petition forum to ensure that the aforesaid Act is implemented in its letter and spirit. More specifically, our demands are the following:

1.   The aforesaid Migrant Workmen Act clearly defines the responsibilities of Employers. For example, workers are to be provided with decent living amenities. The cess collected as per the provisions of the Act should be utilized (instead of it being unspent) so that instead of just herding all workers into makeshift hutments, facilities of prefab hutments (Labour colonies) with electric light, fan, potable water may be provided to the workers.

2.   Community kitchen and bathroom cum toilets with running water should be provided at the worksites for all migrant workers.

3.   Worksite hygiene (clean toilets, potable drinking water) is of paramount importance. Readily accessible First Aid Kits and clearly laid out procedures when unfortunate accidents happen should be in place. 

4.   Workers are exposed to lots of fine dust and harsh environment that protective safety devices, such as properly designed nose/mouth masks, appropriate footwear, decent uniforms, protective clothing while working inside the ovens, hard hats when needed should be made mandatory.

5.   Since both men and women are engaged in the work, it is essential that a well-appointed crèche should become the norm at all worksites. Further, it is a statutory requirement under the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979.

6.   As per the provisions of Inter-state Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and conditions of Service) Act 1979, workers are to be provided many facilities. Strict monitoring should be made the responsibilities of the local administration.

7.   Since school-age children (between 6 and 14) usually accompany the migrant workers, it is necessary to ensure that they attend normal schooling available in the neighbourhood. Even though the provisions of Right of Children To Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009, the Government schools (and to a limited 25% extent all private schools, as per clause 12 of the same act) are bound to admit them for the period of their stay as migrant Citizens, but is not implemented properly! The special needs of migrant worker’s children should be kept in mind, so that they become benefited from a child-centric education as mandated in RTE act.

8.   The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan programme promised to start neighborhood schools for the migrant children (where Primary school is more than a kilometer away from the work site) or necessary transport facility is provided. The brick kiln owners should do well to facilitate their transportation to School and sponsor their education as much as possible.

9.   Initiatives must be taken so that the workers are enrolled to receive benefits under ‘Jan Dhan Yojana’ to have individual bank accounts with ATM facility, Universal ID card such as Aadhar enabled subsidies from PDS etc. 

10.                All unorganized workers should get benefits such as building up their own pension provisions and brick kiln owners contribute for the migrant workers an additional 1/12th of the worker’s wages into such account [as per the provisions of the ESI / PF Act].