Draft National Migrant Labour Policy | 24 Feb 2021

Why in News

Recently, NITI Aayog, along with a working subgroup of officials and members of civil society, has prepared a draft National Migrant Labour policy.

Key Points

  • Migration:
    • Migration is the movement of people away from their usual place of residence, across either internal (within country) or international (across countries) borders.
    • The latest government data on migration comes from the 2011 Census. As per the Census, India had 45.6 crore migrants in 2011 (38% of the population) compared to 31.5 crore migrants in 2001 (31% of the population).
  • Current Issues with Migrants:
    • Independent Migrants:
      • The Inter State Migrant Workers Act, 1979 covers only labourers migrating through a contractor, and leaves out independent migrants.
    • Community Building Organisations (CBO):
      • The absence of CBO and administrative staff in the source states has hindered access to development programmes, pushing tribals towards migration.
    • Lack of Engagement by State Governments:
      • State labour departments have little engagement with migration issues, and are in halting human trafficking mode.
    • Middlemen:
      • The local administration, given the usual constraints of manpower, is not in a position to monitor, making the way for middlemen to thrive on the situation and entrap migrants.
  • NITI Aayog’s Draft Approach:
    • The draft describes two approaches to policy design:
      • Focus on cash transfers, special quotas, and reservations.
      • 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.
  • Draft Recommendations:
    • Facilitate Migration:
      • Migration should be acknowledged as an integral part of development, and government policies should not hinder but seek to facilitate internal migration.
    • Increase Wages:
      • However, the draft asks source states to raise minimum wages to bring major shifts in local livelihood of tribals which may result in stemming migration to some extent.
    • Central Database:
      • There should be a central database to help employers “fill the gap between demand and supply” and ensure “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.
    • Migration Resource Centres:
      • The Ministries of Panchayati Raj, Rural Development, and Housing and Urban Affairs should use Tribal Affairs migration data to help create migration resource centres in high migration zones.
      • The Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship should focus on skill-building at these centres.
    • Education:
      • The Ministry of Education should take measures under the Right to Education Act 2009 to mainstream migrant children’s education, to map migrant children, and to provide local-language teachers in migrant destinations.
    • Shelter and Accomodation:
      • The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs should address issues of night shelters, short-stay homes, and seasonal accommodation for migrants in cities.
    • Grievance Handling Cells:
      • 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 and accidents for migrant workers.
  • Previous Recommendations:
    • Report of the Working Group on Migration, released in January 2017 by the then Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation recommended a comprehensive law for these workers, which would form the legal basis for an architecture of social protection.
      • This was in line with the recommendations of a 2007 report by the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector under the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises.

Way Forward

  • A rights-based approach to welfare and social security would work only if the workers have agency, politicisation, unionisation and mobilisation as workers in the past have forced parties and governments to see welfare as an essential aspect of industrial development.
  • The government has taken steps to ensure portability of welfare schemes, especially access to the public distribution system, beyond state borders. More needs to be done on that front.
  • The NITI Aayog draft is a prompt to reimagine labour-capital relations while integrating the migrant workers within the formal workforce. This is necessary to build a compassionate society and a competitive economy.