Recently, the recent uproar was regarding the exodus of Migrant workers who
decided to walk miles to reach their native homes while the government of India
imposed Lock down in the country due to sudden out break of corona virus. The
migrant workers became the worst affected section in the pandemic. The article
deals with the current status of migrant workers along with various labor laws
and their implementation in real scenario.
Further the article mentions the role of judiciary in protecting the rights of
workers with the help of case laws. in pursuant to this the article highlights
all the major guidelines and steps taken by judiciary as well as government
respectively. Further the author also gives suggestion and recommendations to
ease the pain of migrant workers during the Pandemic.
In developing countries, the migrant workers play a crucial role towards the
urbanization of the area which makes them the backbone of the urban economy.
Migration of workers usually means the movement of people from their native
place of residence to any other place either within the country (internal
migration) or outside the country (international migration) in search of
At present medical emergency is created across the world due to sudden outbreak
of Coronavirus pandemic, along with this several other challenges are emerging
at the background as its effect. One of the such issue is the hardships being
faced by migrant workers in this time of covid-19 crisis. According to the
census 2011 India has 45.36 crore of internal migrants or 37% of the country's
population which includes both inter-state migrants as well as migrants within
each state. Intra state migration takes place within the same state whereas
Interstate migrants are the people who migrated from one state to another.
According to the Economic Survey, 2016-17, it was that estimated that there were
six crore inter-state labor migrants between 2001-2011 and each year between
2011-2016, on an average 90 lakh people travelled for work.Amid this crisis
these interstate migrants seem to be most vulnerable towards the current
situation. On 24th march 2020 a nationwide lockdown was announced by the
government of India for 21 days which was further extended.
The consequence of such lockdown was the exodus of migrant workers from the
cities to their native villages. Millions of workers were seen walking miles on
roads to reach their homes. Among these thousands of workers lost their lives in
between the journey because of starvation, lack of transportation and medical
facilities and many of them even had to face legal consequences. The turmoil of
Covid- 19 engulfed the dignity of such workers and worsened their socio-
The pandemic has not only created the health emergency but also the financial
crisis all over the world. The repercussions of this crisis made conditions
critical for the daily wage workers, street vendors, rickshaw pullers etc as
their lives and livelihood is at risk.
The constitution and the Labor Rights
The plight of Migrant workers is existing since the time of Industrial
Revolution. Several legislations and polices have been framed to protect their
basic rights. Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides
the fundamental right of social security to every member.
The United Nations convention on economic social and cultural rights
specifically deals with labor rights under Article 6 of the declaration which
safeguards their right to work, employment, prevent discrimination in the work
place and prohibits forced or child labor. this empowers them to enjoy these
rights of self –determination and could attain their economic, social and
The international labor organization (ILO) one of the united Nations body sets
the recognized labor standards for the protection of workers' rights globally.
the organization works towards promoting as equal pay for equal work, safe
working conditions, freedom of association, abolition of forced labor and
sex-based discrimination, employment protection, provision of social security,
protection of migrant workers, elimination of sexual harassment of women
workers. However, none of the policies or conventions seems to be working at
this time of crisis.
The objective of Indian constitution is very clearly mentioned in its preamble
where it focuses to secure justice – social, economic and political; equality of
status and of opportunity among all its citizen. Article 21 of the constitution
guarantees right to life and personal liberty.
This article intends to ensure the workmen to live with basic human dignity. The
impression of article 21 in terms of migrant workers may also be observed in
part IV of the constitution which lays down the Directive Principle of State
Policy to achieve the idea of social justice. Article39 (e), (f); Article 41 and
42 provides for health and strength of workers, protection against abuse and
exploitation, right to work and employment opportunities, equal pay for equal
work, social security, just and humane working condition and maternity relief.
Labor law in India is a part of concurrent list under schedule VII of the
constitution which implies the fact that the central and state government both
are empowered to formulate and regulate the policies, hence various legislations
are enacted to protect and safeguard the rights of migrant workers. Some of the
Acts governing labor laws are discussed below:
The aforesaid Act lays down certain duties and obligation on employer,
some important ones are discussed below:
- Interstate Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment) Conditions of
Service Act 1979,
This act was brought into existence because of the inefficient provisions of
the previous statute of Contract Labor (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970
which failed to curb the issue of malpractices that were being done by the
principal employer/contractor/sardar/khatedars, etc.
The act was enacted to protect Interstate migrant workmen from their
exploitation by contractors and to regulate the condition of service
provided to them in Indian labor laws. This act provides certain rights to
migrant workmen in terms of wages, welfare schemes and other facilities and
imposes duties and obligations on contactors towards these workmen.
- Furnishing the particulars of the workmen in prescribed format to the
specified authority in state.
- To provide a passbook and registration ID indicating other details like
name, place of establishment where he is working, period of employment etc.
- A register is to be maintained with the full details of interstate
workmen which shall be made available to the statutory authority for the
purpose of scrutiny whenever required.
- In case of failure by the contractor, the Principal employer is obliged
to bear the wages and other benefits to interstate workers.
- during the period of employment if such workmen suffers from any injury
or fatal accident, it has to informed to concerned state authorities and to
the kins of the deceased through the contractor.
RIGHTS OF INTERSTATE WORKERS UNDER THIS ACT:
- Equal amount of wages shall be provided to workmen for the similar
nature and same duration of work being performed in that establishment.
However, the wages of an interstate worker shall not be lower than the wages
fixed under Minimum Wages Act, 1948 (11 of 1948),
- as per section 14 of the act the interstate workers have right to
receive displacement allowance equal to 50% of monthly wages or Rs 75
whichever is higher
- under section 15 of the act the workers are entitled to receive home
journey allowance including payment of wages during the period of journey,
- various other facilities shall be provided to them such as
accommodation, medical facilities free of charge on mandatory basis,
protective clothing to workmen etc.
- Termination of employment after the contract period without any
- They have the Right to file a complaint with the authorities within
three months of any incident, accident, etc.
The rights and duties enshrined under this act just seems to be a dead letter.
The mass movement of interstate migrant during the lockdown reveals the
loopholes of state governments in implementation of the said act as the states
did not have complete data of workers as a consequence of which many states were
unable to provide even the basic necessities in times of emergency. On the other
hand, there is lack of awareness regarding the rights and privileges among the
II. The Unorganized Workers' Social Security Act, 2008
The unprecedent crisis of Covid-19 and the situation of lockdown has forced the
labors of an unorganized sector to return to their native places. India is
emerging as a super power though a large sector of population is still
uneducated who are dependent on the unorganized sector for their livelihood such
as handloom workers, leather workers, construction workers etc. according to
latest record of a Sub-committee of the National Commission for Enterprises in
the Unorganized Sector (NCEUS), the contribution of unorganized sector to GDP is
about 50% (NCEUS 2008).
Despite of such major contribution the government
failed to provide social security to the people working in the unorganized
sector. The workers working under this sector are very low paid. The workmen in
this sector lacks job security along with it there is no facility of paid
leaves, provident fund, medical benefits, no compensation for injuries during
the work period or other incentives. Section 2(c) of the Unorganized
Workers' Act defines “unorganized sector
” means an enterprise owned by
individuals or self-employed workers and engaged in the production or sale of
goods or providing service of any kind whatsoever, and where the enterprise
employs workers, the number of such workers is less than ten.
In the year 2008 The Unorganized Workers' Social Security Act was enacted for
the purpose of ensuring social security and welfare of unorganized workers and
to implement the national Security Social Scheme. the act consisted of several
welfare provisions which would help to uplift the workmen working in the
unorganized area some of the important provisions are:
Challenges faced by migrant workers:
- According to sec (3) of the act the central government is empowered to
formulate the welfare schemes for the workers of unorganized sector in the
matters relating to:
- life and disability cover;
- health and maternity benefits;
- old age protection; and
- any other benefit as may be determined by the Central Government.
- The act however does not define the term social security but it states
that in order To claim social security benefits provided under the Act, the
workers needs to register themselves after fulfilling certain conditions
specified under sec 10 of the act.
- The act provides for various social security schemes such as Indira
Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme, National Family Benefit Scheme, Janani
Suraksha Yojana, Aam Admi Bima Yojana, Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana and
various other schemes. One of such schemes is Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana to
provide health insurance to the workers of the unorganized sector specifically
to the people who falls under BPL (Below Poverty Line) category. The scheme is
designed as cashless insurance where they are provided with smart card that
enables them to get hospitalized in private as well as public hospitals.
Article 19 (d) and(e) of the constitution guarantees the freedom to move, reside
and settle anywhere within the territory of India, this gives an option to
people to migrate from one place to another in search of better employment
opportunities and high wage income. The other reasons for migration of workers
are economic necessity, inter regional disparity, social and cultural factors
etc. however even migrating to other states does not full fill the purpose of
achieving better living conditions.
The migrant workers had to deal with lot of
issues such as lack of social security, job security. many of them are deprived
of even the basic amenities of safe living and working conditions, proper
sanitation, they hardly receive any health benefits. They fail to access state
driven services due to lack of identity proof and other valid documents.
The major issue among the migrant worker is the food security which has also
been compromised. It is evident that public distribution system is one of the
food security safety net programs under National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013
which aims to provide food grains on highly subsidized rate.
This benefit is
linked with the ration card so that the food grains can be availed locally but
in case of migrant workers they lose access to benefit at one location while
migrating to other. The issuing of ration card is under the state governments as
result of which ration card is not compatible across other states and for
availing the benefits in other state the migrants had to again apply for the
card by renouncing the old one which is pretty a lengthy procedure.
This section of population is vulnerable to exploitation and there have been
many cases where such instances are clearly visible. For example, women migrant
labor is paid less as compare to men for the same kind of work, many employers
compel workers to work for extra hours without any additional wages for it.
There are cases where the children of these migrant workers are also made to
work in the same industry despite of prohibition on child labor.
To protect the exploitation of migrant workers the judiciary has intervened into
the matter from time to time and has brought many reforms concerning the rights
of migrant labors through relevant cases. In a case of people's union of
democratic rights v. union of India, a writ petition was filed which was
brought by way of PIL (Public Interest Litigation) in the Honorable Supreme
Court Of India in order to ensure the observance of the provisions of various
enactments of Labor Laws.
In the said petition several allegations were put
forth concerning the violation of provisions of Equal Remuneration Act,1976 as
women workers were paid less and the balance amount of wages were
misappropriated by jamadars dealing with the Asiad project. Further there was
clear violation of Article 24 of the constitution and provisions of Employment
of Children Act, 1938 as it was found in the investigation that several children
below 14 years of age were employed in the construction of various project, also
the minimum wages were denied to workmen in spite of the provision of Minimum
Wages Act of 1948. In addition to these there was the violation of several other
labor laws such as contract labor (regulation and abolition) act 1970,
Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 etc.
The Supreme court observed that the State is under constitutional obligation to
secure the fundamental rights of the workers and enforce them. Further the
Central Government is bound by Directive Principles of State Policy to ensure
the observance of various social welfare and labor laws enacted by Parliament.
The court herein. Extended the meaning and scope of Article 21(Right to Life) to
include right to live with dignity along with the right to livelihood.
with article 21 the ambit of article 17, 23 and 24 was also extended. The court
stated that when a labor is provided remuneration less than the minimum wages
for the service he provided then it falls within the ambit of article 23 which
is wide and unlimited and focuses at “traffic in human beings”
and “beggar and
other forms of forced labor”
wherever they are found. Therefore, it is not only
” which is prohibited under Article 23 but also all other forms of forced
In another case of Laborers Working on Salal Hydro Project vs. State of Jammu &
 and others a petition was filed based on the copy of a news report
published in the INDIAN EXPRESS newspaper high lighting the indifferent
conditions of the migrant workmen working on the site.
In this case the MIGRANT
laborers were brought from other states and were employed by contractors and
sub-contractors under the project. Relief was sought by way of implementation of
labor welfare legislations for the benefit of these deprived persons. There was
no uniform pattern of employment as such and these workmen were recruited by khatedars from their villages in Orissa and Bihar who were given advances before
being taken to the project site.
On the site it was found that these migrant workers were mercilessly being
exploited by contractors and sub- contractors. They were not providing basic
amenities like rest rooms, canteens and washing facilities. No uniformity was
maintained while paying wages to the workers and there were complaints of
deductions on account of advances made to them, messing charges, etc.
other corrupt practices were found to be prevailing among the khatedars,
contactors and sun contractors. the provisions of the Inter-State Migrant
Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 were
being clearly violated. No weekly off day was being allowed to them, even
the minimum wage fixed for workmen was found less than that fixed by the State
Government. on the project site many minors were also found working.
The Court by allowing the petition upheld the rights of migrant workers by
emphasizing on the implementation of Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of
Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 and stated that the Central
Government was under obligation to enforce the provisions contained in sec. 12
to 16 and also those relating to registration of principal employers and
licensing of contractors. In pursuant to this the contention of Central
Government that the workers had gone to Salal Project for work on their own and
therefore could not be considered as migrant workmen was rejected by the court.
It was held that the Oriya workmen recruited by khatedars from their villages in
Orissa and brought to the project site for work are lnter-State migrant workmen
within the meaning of s. 2 (e) of the Act and such workers are entitled to have
benefits provided under the act.
Measures taken for the migrant laborers by Government during lockdown.
The economic and social disparity prevailing in the society has led to an extent
that the weaker sections are struggling to survive. The recent sudden
announcement of lockdown by the government pushed the vulnerable sections of the
society into more precarious situation. Though the announcement made was to curb
the potential transmission of Corona virus to masses but this decision seems to
have detrimental effect on lives of migrant workers as the government lacked a
fool proof planning before such announcement. There were no alternative options
of employment given to daily wage workers, no facilities were provided regarding
the food distribution to weaker sections, no awareness campaigns were raised
concerning the Covid-19 at the beginning etc. This whole scenario compelled the
migrant population to come out on the roads and walk miles to reach to their
The judiciary has once again come into picture and has acted as a guardian to
protect the rights of migrant laborers. In case of Harsh Mander and anr. Vs. UOI
 a writ petition was filed in Supreme Court wherein the petitioners
were seeking directions for the government to ensure the payment of wages to the
migrant workers during the epidemic. In the response the court asked the
petitioners to look at the status report submitted by the government and refused
to interfere in policy matters.
Later on petition was disposed on 21st April,
when Solicitor general, Tushar Mehta filed a status report and informed about
the various measures being taken to address the issues of migrant workers and he
also highlighted the fact that a helpline has been generated where the
complaints can be logged so that the aggrieved could receive an immediate
Further by looking at the severity of the matter the Honorable Supreme Court of
India took Suo- moto cognizance and issued directions In Re: Problems and
Miseries of Migrant Laborer, in order to alleviate the suffering and ease
the pain of migrant workers. The order dated 09.06.2020 directed the central and
state governments to take following measures:
Steps taken by government:
- To ensure that stranded workers must be transported within 15 days from
the order dates either by train, bus or other modes of transportation.
- To formulate employment schemes after conducting skill mapping to
provide the source of livelihood at their native pace.
- To give the details and list of all welfare schemes which can be availed
by such workers.
- The SC asked the Railway to provide shramik special trains within
24hours of receiving request from the concerned government.
- To withdraw all such complaints which have been filed against the
workers for violating the lockdown norms while they were attempting to get
back to their homes.
On April 1, the Ministry of Health and Family Affairs has asked the state
governments to arrange relief camps for migrant workers with basic amenities
facilities of food, sanitation and medical services.
The Finance Minister at centre announced that the migrant workers would receive
free food grains for the period of two months as a part of Aatma Nirbhar Bharat
Abhiyaan which is expected to benefit eight crore migrant workers and their
families. Under the same platform of Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan a scheme has
been launched to provide Affordable Rental Housing units for Migrant Workers and
Urban Poor under PMAY.
Several state governments like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh had
announced an immediate financial assistance by transferring cash for the
returning migrants. UP government had provided maintenance allowance of Rs 1,000
for returning migrants who are required to quarantine.
The situation would have been much better if the government had anticipated the
class of population who might get severely affected by the decision of lockdown
and the government should have taken steps then and there to control the exodus
of migrant workers however it did not happen and several repercussion of an
unplanned decision is clearly visible. In order to deal with whole scenario, the
government needs to emphasize on following points:
- There is need to develop a powerful communication channel directly
between the government and the migrant workers through which messages can be
conveyed to them regarding the various welfare programs and other benefits
of the schemes.
- There is already a panic situation prevailing among the people specially
among the weaker sections regarding the Covid-19 which may be wiped out
through awareness campaigns make them learn to take precautions and protect
- Mgnrega jobs [Mahatma Gandhi National rural employment act 2005] can play
an important role for providing work to migrant workers, who returned back to
their homes. It will work as an immediate financial assistance for their
- An ample of amount of time must be given to general public in order to
prepare themselves for such economic lockdown in the country.
- The local governments can share the responsibilities of the state
government while creating the database of migrant workers and mapping their
- Last but not the least there is an immediate need to strengthen the
medical facilities by focusing on both physical as well as mental health
because the lockdown situation seems to difficult specially on weaker
sections who are being affected by depression, anxiety etc.
The corona virus pandemic is not only about the health emergency but it has also
created various issues at the background such as weakening of economy, loss of
employment, and the plight of migrant workers are one such issue, however it's
been a perennial problem existing since long time, although several measures
have been taken to resolve the issues but no improvements could be seen as such.
Several labour laws have been enacted and amended since the constitution came
into existence but some how it failed to serve the purpose which is clearly
evident during the times of pandemic.
This section of population has been
exposed to higher risk of exploitation in upcoming times due to unavailability
of employment opportunities. The aftermath effect of pandemic will prevail for a
long period; therefore, a full proof planning is required to overcome the
problems of migrant workers. The government has to work efficiently in mapping
the skills of the workers based on which the policies can be formulated to
The scheme of one nation one ration card must come into
force and shall be implemented immediately so that basic food requirements can
be met. Above all the government must ensure that benefits of the schemes are
within the reach of each and every worker and they are able to avail it. No
country in the world was prepared to deal with this unforeseen pandemic but
every nation is trying their best to mitigate the problems and India is among
The government alone cannot ensure safety and security to the weaker
section of society, hence each and every individual needs to lend their hands to
fight against ordeal. It is important that these people shall receive equal
treatment in the society so that they can live their life with dignity, with
their head held high.
- censusindia.gov.in/2011census/population enumeration
- Economic Survey 2016-17.
- UN General Assembly, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 10 December
1948, 217 A (III)
- UN General Assembly, International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights, 16 December 1966, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 993,
- Art. 21 constitution of India 1950
- Interstate Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment) Conditions of
Service Act 1979 (No. 30 of 1979).
- The Unorganised Workers' Social Security Act, 2008 ACT NO. 33 OF 2008.
- Peoples Union of Democratic Rights v Union of India AIR 1982 SC 1473
- AIR 1984 SC 177
- Harsh Mander and anr. Vs. UOI and anr WP (Civil) Diary No(s). 10801/2020
- main.sci.gov.in/supremecourt/2020/_Order_09-Jun-2020. B vn
- Ministry of Health and Family Welfare D.o.No.Z.28015/42/2020 - EMR
Dated: 1stApril, 2O2O
- prsindia.org/report-summaries/ announcements-aatma-nirbhar-bharat-abhiyaan