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Legal Rights of Migrant workers during COVID-19 Pandemic

Written by: Anshuman Singh, Student, Government Law College, Mumbai

“Every labourer is worthy of his hire. No country can produce thousands of unpaid whole-time workers.”

- Mahatma Gandhi

The year 2020 marked one of the most tumultuous times in recent decades and it certainly is not an exaggeration to say we are literally surviving through an apocalypse and this is all due to the Covid-19 virus. The Covid-19 virus was quite like the mythical ‘Pandora's box’ bringing a slew of troubles with it because of the virus the people not only suffered disastrous medical complications but also the socio-economic conditions of the people were majorly hit but even then conditions were specially bad for migrant workers. With the whole country under lockdown and no way of earning a daily wage these workers were stranded in some city far-off from their home unable to return in these dreadful conditions.

Today when we are stuck in our home during this deadly crisis these migrant workers are still wandering the streets for basic necessities like food, shelter, clothing etc. Now the question arises who can be classified as migrant workers. Migrant workers are those workers, who migrate from one area to another area within the state or country in order to get seasonal or temporary or part time work in different sectors and they are also not entitled to a minimum wage( stipulated under the Minimum wage act 1948). On 24th March the government started a nation-wide lockdown to prevent the rise in Covid-19 cases in India which was a very effective move to save lives and stop the progression of Covid-19 in India but as is the case with most things this also caused many difficulties. Due to the lockdown almost all the businesses and factories were shut down which uprooted the lives of millions of migrant workers struggling to make ends meet. A 2011 census estimated that there are around 40 million migrant workers in India. In the past few weeks there have been numerous violations of legal rights of workers on a daily basis and in order to protect the rights of legal workers it is important that we should be aware of the rights enjoyed by migrant workers.

Legal rights of Migrant worker

The workers in India enjoy many legal rights which protect them from exploitation and inhumane working culture. The Constitution of India have encased many rights in it to protect these workers :-

i) Article 14- It states that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law and will be granted equal protection of the laws. [1]

ii)Article 15- It states that the State will not discriminate on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them in providing access to public places, hotels, restaurants etc.

iii) Article 16- It states that there will be equal opportunities given to all the citizens in job opportunities provided by the state.

iv) Article 19- It specifically provides 6 core freedoms to the citizens of India and its specific subsection (c) provides the freedom to workers to form unions or associations amongst themselves if they see fit.

v) Article 23- It specifically prohibits forced labour and if anyone forces anyone to work against their wishes, they shall have committed an offence.

vi) Article 24- It specifically prohibits minor/ child workers (under the age of 14) to work in any “hazardous employment” like a factory or mine etc.

vii) Article 38(1)- It states that it is the duty of the state to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice, social, economic and political stability shall be maintained.The state shall inform all the institutions of national life to maintain thus. It is a principle that a state has to abide with.

viii) Article 39- It states that the State shall strive particularly to :-

(a) provide the citizens, men and women equally the right to

To procure an adequate means of livelihood.

(b) provide the ownership and control of the material resources of the community that are so distributed as best to serve the common good.

(d) provide an equal pay for equal work for both men and women.

ix) Article 41- It states that the State shall make effective provision for securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disability and in other such cases.

x) Article 42- It states that the State shall make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work.[2]

xi) Article 43- It states that the State shall endeavour to secure, by suitable legislation or economic organisation or in any other way, all workers agricultural, industrial or otherwise work a living wage.

xii) Article 43A- The State shall take steps, by suitable legislation or in any other way, to secure the participation of workers in the management of undertakings, establishments or other organisations engaged in any industry.

India is a founding member of the International Labour organization which came into existence in 1919 and currently has about 186 members. India has ratified to a number of conventions. The ILO has set up International Labour Standards in the form of Conventions and Recommendations. Some of the Conventions ratified by India are:-

i) Forced Labour Convention No 29(Co29)- It states that every member who has ratified this convention undertakes to suppress forced labour or compulsory labour in all it forms within the shortest period of time. Article 25 states that “The illegal exaction of forced or compulsory labour shall be punishable as a penal offence and it shall be an obligation on any Member ratifying this Convention to ensure that the penalties imposed by law are really adequate and are strictly enforced”

ii) Equal Remuneration Convention 1951 No 100(C100)- It states that every member that ratifies this convention will by means appropriate to the methods in operation for determining rates of remuneration promote and in so far as is consistent with such methods, ensure the application to all workers of the principle of equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal value.[3]

iii) Minimum Age Convention 1973 N0 138(C138)- It states that every member who ratifies this convention will pursue a national policy designed to ensure the effective abolition of child labour and to raise progressively the minimum age for admission to employment or work to a level consistent with the fullest physical and mental development of young persons.

iv) Minimum wage fixing Machinery 1928 No 26(C26)-It states that every member who ratifies this Convention undertakes to create or maintain machinery whereby minimum rates of wages can be fixed for workers employed in certain of the trades or parts of trades in which no arrangements exist for the effective regulation of wages by collective agreement or otherwise and wages are exceptionally low.

v) Equality of Treatment Social security Convention 1962 No118(C118)- It states that every member who ratifies this convention may accept the obligations of this Convention in respect of any one or more of the following branches of social security for which it has in effective operation legislation covering its own nationals within its own territory benefits such as maternity benefit, sickness benefit, medical care, old age benefit, employment injury benefit etc.

vi) Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention 1958 (No. 111)- It states each member for which this Convention is in force undertakes to declare and pursue a national policy designed to promote, by methods appropriate to national conditions and practice, equality of opportunity and treatment in respect of employment and occupation with a view to eliminate any discrimination in respect thereof.

vii) Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182)- It states that each member which ratifies this Convention shall take immediate and effective measures to secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour as a matter of urgency. Article 2 of the convention states that a child is anyone under the age of 18 years.

“No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

Martin Luther King

According to a news report during phase 3 of the lockdown in Uttar Pradesh hundred and eighteen migrant workers lost their lives which has been the highest amongst all the lockdown period data. Like this incident many other incidents of deaths or suicide of migrant workers have been reported in the past few weeks which goes on to show the grim situation these workers are in. After losing their jobs and thus their source of income many migrant workers are forced by their landlords to vacate their houses and are compelled to roam the streets endlessly in hope of salvation. The Government of India should ratify all of its conventions regarding Labour laws and especially those of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) so that the workers who deserve these rights and rightly so can be saved by the government who has taken an oath to protect them.


[1]; [2] [3]


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