Labour, Jobs and Employment – Harmonization of labour laws, gender gap, unemployment, etc.

India’s migrant workers need better policies


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Policy for migrant labourers and related issues

The article analyses the draft policy document for migrant labourers prepared by the NITI Aayog.

Draft policy by NITI Aayog

  • The Niti Aayog, on the request of the Ministry of Labour and Employment, has prepared an umbrella policy document for migrant labourers, including informal sector workers.
  • The draft policy makes significant strides in providing a perspective on recognising the magnitude and role of migrant workers, their problems and vulnerabilities, and the role and responsibilities of various stakeholders in addressing these.
  •  It states that a sound policy must be viewed from a “human rights, property rights, economic, social development, and foreign policy lens”.
  • It reiterates that policy should lead to the fulfilment of ILO commitments and the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG 8.8 on the protection of labour rights and providing a safe and secure working environment for all workers, particularly migrants.

Portability of social protection to address vulnerabilities

  • The policy describes many sources of vulnerabilities of migrant labourers, ranging from their invisibility and political and social exclusion to informal work arrangements, exploitation and denial of labour rights, lack of collective voice, exclusion from social protection arrangements, formal skills, health, education, and housing.
  • Following from this, it identifies portability of social protection, voting rights, right to the city (the collective ownership and participation of citizens in cities they have helped build) and health, education and housing facilities as key issues to be dealt with.
  • It also reflects on the need for pro-poor development and provision of livelihoods in the source areas.

Governance structure

  • The draft policy proposes a governance structure with the Ministry of Labour as the nodal ministry and a dedicated unit under it which will act as a focal point for inter-ministerial and Centre-state coordination.
  • It also proposes mechanisms for coordinating the effort on inter-state migration, especially on principal migration corridors.
  • The policy document creates a framework under which migrant workers and their families can access entitlements and possibly work in a safer and better environment.

Issues need to be addressed

1) Failure to address cause of migration of labour

  • The National Commission for Rural Labour argued way back in 1991 that unequal development was the main cause of labour migration.
  • In the last three decades, disparities in development and inequalities have grown ceaselessly, calling for deep correctives.
  • Without such correction, migration and the adverse inclusion of migrants in labour markets is bound to grow unchecked.
  • The report falls short of acknowledging this.

2) Exclusion of migrants urban local governments

  • While the report correctly pinpoints the exclusion of migrants by urban local governments in the provision of basic entitlements, it fails to acknowledge the root cause of the lopsided urban development strategy.
  • The urban strategy has catered to national and global capital and the urban middle classes, marginalising the poor, particularly the migrants.

3) Denial of social security

  • The report also makes a false dichotomy between approaches which rely on cash transfers and special dispensations and a second approach which enhances the agency and capability of migrants and removes constraints on these.
  • The denial of the first approach has led the report to brush aside the migrants’ and informal workers’ right to social security.
  • Social security is acknowledged as a universal human right in international covenants to which India is a signatory and is given due place in the Constitution.
  • The National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) showed in 2006 that providing a minimum level of universal social security was financially and administratively feasible.
  • The Commission also recommended a universal registration system and issuance of smart social security cards, but its recommendations have unfortunately remained a dead letter.

4) Approach towards labour rights and labour policy

  • By putting grievance and legal redressal above regulation and enforcement on which it remains silent, the report puts the cart before the horse.
  • Surprisingly, the report does not take stock of the new labour codes, mentioning only the defunct laws that were subsumed by them.
  • The Codes accentuate the very problems — informality, precarity, the role of contractors and the lack of organisation — which the report itself describes.
  • The Codes, in promoting ease of business, have tilted the balance firmly in favour of capital.


In essence, the draft policy framework identifies the problems but fails to address the policy distortions which lie at their root. Hopefully, however, the draft will be opened up for further discussions and feedback to enrich and complete what is already a significant beginning.

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