Home / Politics / Policy /  State govts to work with Centre, ILO to tackle bonded labour

New Delhi: India’s state governments are to work in partnership with the Centre and the International Labour Organization (ILO) to tackle the vulnerability of seasonal migrants to becoming bonded labourers for brick-kiln owners.

The project, a joint initiative of the ministry of labour and employment, state labour departments and ILO, will attempt to prevent the phenomenon of bonded labour by enrolling migrant workers in government schemes at their source and destination states.

By working closely with employers (in this case, the owners of brick kilns) to improve the recruitment system and working conditions of labourers in brick kilns, regulating the system of payments of wages and advances, and registering the middle men who are responsible for recruitment, state governments hope to break the poverty cycle leading to bonded labour.

“Migrants are one of the groups most vulnerable to bondage," said Anil Swarup, director general of labour welfare. “They are outside the boundaries of their social support network, and almost all of the government schemes don’t benefit those out of their place of residence."

In the past, governments have tried to address this issue with the Bonded Labour Abolition Act, under which bonded labourers are identified, and their debt discharged by the government.

“The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t address the underlying causes of debt bondage," explained Birla Bharti, national project manager for reducing vulnerability to bondage in India at ILO. “As soon as they need money again—if there’s a marriage at home or a medical emergency—they’ll take out another loan and be trapped in the same cycle."

The US state department’s Trafficking in Persons Report that was published in June highlighted forced labour and debt bondage as “India’s largest trafficking problem", in which “men, women and children in debt bondage are forced to work in industries such as brick kilns, rice mills, agriculture and embroidery factories."

“Throughout the years, the whole focus has been on identifying bonded labourers and rehabilitating them. But that has been difficult for a number of reasons," said Swarup. “What we are trying to do now is identify groups that are vulnerable to bondage and fill the gaps in their economic needs through government schemes."

The second part of the current initiative involves enlisting migrant labourers in social security schemes (which they can avail of across states), unionizing workers, and creating crèches or on-site schools for the children of migrant labourers who often accompany their parents on site.

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