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

NITI Aayog’s Draft National Policy on Migrant Workers

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Migration pattern in India

Mains level : Welfare of the migrant workers

Spurred by the exodus of 10 million migrants from big cities during the Covid-19 lockdown, the NITI Aayog has prepared a draft national migrant labour policy.

Highlights of the Policy

  • The draft describes two approaches to policy design:
  1. To focus on cash transfers, special quotas, and reservations
  2. To enhance the agency and capability of the community and thereby remove aspects that come in the way of an individual’s own natural ability to thrive

A rights-based approach

  • The policy rejects a handout approach, opting instead for a rights-based framework.
  • It seeks to remove restrictions on the true agency and potential of the migrant workers.
  • The goal a/c to the document should not be to provide temporary or permanent economic or social aids”, which is “a rather limited approach”.
  • Migration, the draft says, should be acknowledged as an integral part of the development and government policies should not hinder but…seek to facilitate internal migration.

Issues with existing law

  • The 2017 report argued that specific protection legislation for migrant workers was unnecessary.
  • Migrant workers aren’t yet integrated with all workers as part of an overarching framework that covers regular and contractual work.
  • The report discussed the limitations of The Inter-State Migrant Workers Act, 1979, which was designed to protect labourers from exploitation by contractors by safeguarding their right to non-discriminatory wages.
  • It mentions that the Ministry of Labour and Employment should amend the 1979 Act for “effective utilization to protect migrants”.

Restructuring the institutions

The NITI draft lays down institutional mechanisms to coordinate between Ministries, states, and local departments to implement programmes for migrants.

  • Nodal agency: It identifies the Ministry of Labour and Employment as the nodal Ministry for implementation of policies, and asks it to create a special unit to help to converge the activities of other Ministries.
  • Resources centre: This unit would manage migration resource centres in high migration zones, a national labour Helpline, links of worker households to government schemes, and inter-state migration management bodies.
  • Migration corridors: On the inter-state migration management bodies, it says that labour departments of source and destination states along major migration corridors, should work together through the migrant worker cells.
  • Labour officers from source states can be deputed to destinations – e.g., Bihar’s experiment to have a joint labour commissioner at Bihar Bhavan in New Delhi.
  • Role for Panchayats: Alongside the long-term goal, policies should promote the role of panchayats to aid migrant workers and integrate urban and rural policies to improve the conditions of migration.
  • Migration management: Panchayats should maintain a database of migrant workers, issue identity cards and passbooks, and provide “migration management and governance” through training, placement, and social-security benefit assurance, the draft says.

Ways to stem migration

  • Even as it underlines the key role of migration in development, the draft recommends steps to stem migration.
  • The draft asks source states to raise minimum wages to bring a major shift in the local livelihood of tribal that may result in stemming migration to some extent.
  • The absence of community building organisations (CBO) and administrative staff in the source states have hindered access to development programmes, pushing tribals towards migration, the draft says.
  • The “long term plan” for CBOs and panchayats should be to “alleviate distress migration policy initiatives” by aiming “for a more pro-poor development strategy in the sending areas.

The importance of data

  • The draft calls for a central database to help employers “fill the gap between demand and supply” and ensures “maximum benefit of social welfare schemes”.
  • It asks the Ministries and the Census office to be consistent with the definitions of migrants and subpopulations, capture seasonal and circular migrants, and incorporate migrant-specific variables in existing surveys.
  • Both documents see limited merit in Census data that comes only once a decade.
  • It asked the National Sample Survey Office to include questions related to migration in the periodic labour force survey and to carry out a separate survey on migration.

Preventing exploitation

  • The policy draft describes a lack of administrative capacity to handle issues of exploitation.
  • State labour departments have little engagement with migration issues, and are in “halting human trafficking mode”, the draft says.
  • The local administration, given the usual constraints of manpower, is not in a position to monitor.
  • This has become the breeding ground for middlemen to thrive on the situation and entrap migrants which leads to potential exploitation and trafficking.

Specific recommendations

  • The draft asks the various ministries to use Tribal Affairs migration data to help create migration resource centres in high migration zones.
  • It asks the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship to focus on skill-building at these centres.
  • The Ministry of Education should take measures under the Right to Education Act to mainstream migrant children’s education, to map migrant children, and to provide local-language teachers in migrant destinations.
  • The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs should address issues of night shelters, short-stay homes, and seasonal accommodation for migrants in cities.
  • The National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) and Ministry of Labour should set up grievance handling cells and fast track legal responses for trafficking, minimum wage violations, and workplace abuses etc.
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