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Modi govt gives special attention to migrants in labour code

Migrant laborers wait for a rapid antigen test at the site of an under construction residential complex amidst a coronavirus disease outbreak in New Delhi (Reuters)Premium
Migrant laborers wait for a rapid antigen test at the site of an under construction residential complex amidst a coronavirus disease outbreak in New Delhi (Reuters)

  • Fixing of salary threshold, portability of construction cess benefits and PDS are some of the measures that govt has lined up for migrants
  • The nationwide lockdown imposed in March was especially hard for migrant workers

New Delhi: The inter-state migrants got a special attention in the Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions tabled by the government in Lok Sabha Saturday.

From fixing a salary threshold, allowing them to register themselves on an online database, from making provision for an annual “journey allowance" to the offering of portability option on public distribution system and construction cess benefits, the migrants have a lot to cheer from the bill.

The bill says all such workers earning up to 18,000 per month will be covered under this act and it may change if the government wishes to change it. “Under an agreement or other arrangement for such employment and draws wages not exceeding the amount of rupees eighteen thousand per month or such higher amount as may be notified by the Central Government from time to time," the bill says.

Under the present provisions, migrants were covered under labour laws only when they were hired through contractors. This means, it excludes millions who travel themselves to find work in cities and industrial clusters.

The OSH code, also seeks to make provision for offering options to migrants for availing themselves of benefits under Public Distribution System (PDS), either in their home or host state. The migrants in the building and construction sector will also be able to avail themselves of benefits out of the construction cess fund in the state where they are employed, if the bill is passed. Construction cess benefit portability is an enabling provision, but needs clarity, as it is a consolidated fund and not a unitized corpus.

The migrant workers took a big hit post the national lockdown imposed to curb the coronavirus in India, and government data shows over 10 million of them left for their villages after job loss, and income loss post the lockdown, which began on 25 March. Millions walked back home and several hundred died during that time. The government has been facing constant criticism from opposition parties and civil society members for the migrants' plight and how its unplanned lockdown impacted millions of poor.

The OSH code merges 13 existing labour laws including the Factories Act, the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, and shall be applicable to establishments hiring at least 10 workers.

On registration of migrants through a database, the OSH code says the Central government and the state government concerned shall collect, compile and analyse occupational safety and health statistics in such form and manner as may be prescribed. The Central government and the state governments shall maintain the database or record, for inter-state migrant workers, electronically or otherwise in such portal and in such form and manner as may be prescribed by the Centre.

This Code, once enacted, will provide an inter-state migrant to “register himself…on such portal on the basis of self-declaration and Aadhaar".

The labour ministry, has, however, removed a compulsory requirement from employers “to provide and maintain suitable residential accommodation" to migrants during the period of their employment. The OSH code has also removed a displacement allowance that the migrants workers were supposed to get from contractors.

The bill, however, introduces an annual journey allowance like travel allowance and the “employer shall pay, to every inter-state migrant worker employed in his establishment, in a year a lump sum amount of fare for to and fro journey to his native place from the place of his employment, in the manner taking into account the minimum service for entitlement, periodicity and class of travel and such other matters as may be prescribed by the appropriate government".

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