The outbreak of COVID-19 in India has made a million of daily wage earners and migrant workers vulnerable to extreme poverty or even death. The livelihood of such workers, that form a huge population of India, has been viciously affected. Basic human rights still remain non- existent for them.
The lack of implementation of government guidelines, directing the employers to retain and pay such workers, leads to its effect being nullified. Such workers are often hired on the basis of oral contracts, thereby reducing the accountability of employers. Thus, in times of crisis, luxuries like paid leaves are never provided to them.
The welfare system of the country has failed to provide adequate assurance to the workers when it comes to human rights and welfare schemes. This leaves them alone in the battle against absence of assured wages and social security. Hence, they often suffer to access basic amenities like healthcare and education and fall prey to the poverty and debts. Borrowing money from contractors and moneylenders, in order to sustain themselves, further pushes them in the cycle of indebtedness and poverty.
Female employees, who fall under the category of ‘informal workers’, are engaged in unaccounted and undervalued work that is out of the state’s purview. This makes them highly susceptible to being ineligible for schemes that involve social security and welfare as registration as those schemes usually happen in the name of the primary male member.
It won’t be wrong to say that even though the these workers play an important part in building as well as sustaining our cities, but are too often ignored when it comes to policy-making. The state chooses to remain inactive in enforcing contracts, providing welfare and protecting human rights of these workers.
The lockdown has taken a heavy toll on the lives of the daily wage earners. With a very short notice of the pandemic, and a menial amount of savings, survival of such daily wage earning workers has become a challenge. Many workers belonging to this category were migrant workers, who had travelled to far-away places in search of jobs. These workers were seen combating the battle against hunger and helplessness without much support from the government and the society. Due to the shutdown of transport, they chose a treacherous journey and walked for hours together, with the limited resources of food and water that they had, in order to return to their homes.
Certain basic human rights include:
- Right to work and receive wages that contribute to an adequate standard of living
- Right to freedom from discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, sex,
religion or any other status, in all aspects of work, including in hiring, conditions of
work, and promotion, and in access to housing, health care and basic services
- Right to equality before the law and equal protection of the law, particularly in regard to
human rights and labor legislation, regardless of the legal status of a migrant
- Right to equal pay for equal work
- Right to protection against arbitrary expulsion from the State of employment
- Right to protection for the child from economic exploitation and from any work that may
be hazardous to his or her well-being and development
While challenges like exploitation at workplace and non-payment of adequate wages had already existed, the lockdown intensified these challenges by further aggravating them. These daily wage earners are facing hardships in accessing food and ration. Also, they have become a part of an unending conflict between them and the employers.
Their situation is further complicated by the fact that due to the sub-contractor system, many workers did not know the names of the companies they were working for. They were only acquainted with the names of the ‘thekedaars’, or contractors, who either denied help during these difficult times or escaped by not responding to the workers’ calls of distress.
The government is working on establishing online databases and portals in order to provide relief the workers by way of legislations and regulatory reforms. Measures to boost the human rights protection and formalization of incentives for the daily wage earners are being taken up by creating predictability for employers.
Labour force forms a huge part of the population of the country and thus needs to be protected in order to ensure sustainability and growth in the development process. Thus, notwithstanding the economic ravages of Covid-19, with the policy of ‘whatever it takes’ public and private investment, should lead to rapid reduction in poverty and rise in living standards and GDP.
Investing in migrant workers in the key to success. These workers constitute the demographic profile of young India, forming upto 65% population below the age of 35 years. Thus, violations of their human rights should be dealt with as a priority and steps should be taken to ensure stricter rules to protect these workers from exploitation. The government’s willingness to protect them will show us the reality of the government’s compliance with its responsibilities under human rights law.
An immediate action is required to enable prevention of any further violation of the rights of these laborer’s. Also, permanent measures should be taken up to lay a strong foundation of human rights of these workers.
Government incentives should be made more viable and easily accessible to the daily wage earners and proper implementation of legislations should be ensured.
The growth and development of the nation does rely on the labour force of the country, especially when it comes to India. Thus, protection of daily wage earners and migrant workers becomes a huge responsibility that the government needs to cater to.