The Migrant Commission announced by the UP Govt will not only pull the State out of poverty, it will also restore dignity to the now jobless workers
India’s largest State, Uttar Pradesh (UP), has lurched from crisis to crisis since its inception. Be it law and order, social fault lines or weak socio-economic variables like healthcare, education, infrastructure, income or occupation, UP has been a constant laggard. This triggered high levels of migration for economic reasons. A significant number of migrant workers used to send remittances to UP and also created assets in their home towns. After the countrywide lockdown was implemented on March 25, migrants who were involved in odd jobs or were micro-entrepreneurs and drove cabs or ironed clothes scrambled to return home. With broken income streams and prolonged uncertainty, common sense suggested that the best way to brave the crisis was to be with one’s family and community and over 31 lakh workers returned to the State.
As migrants returned home, so did stories of horror, despair, exploitation and violation of human rights by employers. Against the backdrop of these heart-wrenching stories of abuse, it was announced that a Migrant Commission would be set up in the State to protect the rights and socio-economic welfare of the migrant population. If implemented in action and spirit by the Yogi Adityanath-led UP Government, the Migrant Commission will not only pull the State out of poverty, it will also restore dignity to the now jobless workforce. As of now, barring those below 18 years of age, the skill mapping of 30.47 lakh workers and labourers has been completed in the State and the Government has expressed confidence that under the Atmnirbhar Uttar Pradesh Rozgar Abhiyan, more than 1.25 crore workers would be provided jobs either in various industries or through self-employment.
Social security: Until UP can provide jobs to its workers, it needs to ensure that all documented migrants and their families have adequate access to social welfare schemes, including Ayushman Bharat, Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maan-dhan and Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana. Micro-entrepreneurs should be encouraged to avail MUDRA loans. It is disturbing to see first-time migrants compromise on wages and working conditions due to lack of social security or community support. Left in the lurch, their mental and physical well-being stands bruised.
Affordable housing: As part of the recent economic reforms, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced that affordable rented housing facilities would be provided in cities. The Migration Commission should take this opportunity to construct multiple housing societies for independent and shared accommodation for migrants in these cities and charge affordable rent. These housing facilities can ensure migrants are not fleeced by landlords in big cities and they lead a life of dignity. A lot of times, those in dire need of money end up working overtime, get into the wrong company or don’t pay enough attention to their diet and health because they simply cannot afford to do that. Hence, the Migrant Commission should appoint officers on deputation in these cities, to monitor and safeguard the interests of migrant workers. In cases where the families of migrant workers stay back at home, their time can be used efficiently by actively registering them for skill development programmes and monitoring the academic progress of their children.
Economic security: As mentioned above, perversion in contracts to take advantage of the migrants is rampant. The Migrant Commission needs to ensure that all migrant workers receive nothing less than the floor wage recommended by the Labour Ministry for that geographical area. The Labour Commission will be able to monitor if the wages are aligned with prevalent market rates. This is imperative for economic empowerment of the migrant workers. In order to secure the future of migrants, a pension fund by the State, whereby the migrants contribute a minimum amount for their future, should be set up. The Labour Commission representatives appointed in these cities will have the mandate to conduct market surveys for skill requirements, collect feedback from employers and work as a human resource manager for migrants. By keeping a record of skills of the migrant workers, they can be apprised of upcoming opportunities in other cities or even their own State.
The biggest advantage of this model will be an increase in formalisation of employment and eventually a comprehensive database of workforce and participation rate in India. An immediate risk of this model is that it may face resistance if other States do not provide their vulnerable migrant workforce a definite support system, employers may be resistant to follow the stringent mechanisms and end up not hiring workers from UP.
To some, the Migrant Commission may seem like a legislative overreach and hyper-governance. Unfortunately, the challenge is not just about reaching a supply-demand imbalance where the shortage of skilled and unskilled workforce in certain parts of the country can be met through the surplus in UP. The supply has not placed UP at an advantage; instead it has only given opportunities for informal employers and recruitment agents to indulge in trafficking and access cheap labour.
(The writer is a New Delhi-based public policy analyst)