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HOW CAN INTER-STATE WORKERS BE PROTECTED?

Why in news?

  • On Friday, May 8, 16 migrant labourers who were trying to return to Madhya Pradesh, their home State, on foot were killed when a goods train ran over them between Jalna and Aurangabad districts in Maharashtra.
  • Hundreds of inter-state workers have been seen trying to walk home to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Odisha from their places of work in Rajasthan, Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat and so forth, amidst the lockdown.
  • Questions are being raised about their welfare and the lack of legal protection for their rights.

Recent Labour Reform

  • A Bill had been introduced in Parliament called the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2019.
  • The proposed code seeks to merge 13 labour laws into a single piece of legislation.
  • The Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979, is one of them.
  • There is a concern that specific safeguards given to migrant workers may be lost as a result of this consolidation.

What does the Interstate Migrant Workmen Act 1979 regulate?

  • The Act seeks to regulate the employment of inter-State migrants and their conditions of service.
  • It is applicable to every establishment that employs five or more migrant workmen from other States; or if it had employed five or more such workmen on any day in the preceding 12 months.
  • It is also applicable to contractors who employed a similar number of inter-State workmen.
  • The Act would apply regardless of whether the five or more workmen were in addition to others employed in the establishment or by the contractors.

What does the 1979 law envisage?

  • It envisages a system of registration of such establishments.
  • The principal employer is prohibited from employing inter-State workmen without a certificate of registration from the relevant authority.
  • The law also lays down that every contractor who recruits workmen from one State for deployment in another State should obtain a licence to do so.

What are the beneficial provisions for inter-State migrants in it?

  • The provision for registration of establishments employing inter-State workers creates a system of accountability and acts as the first layer of formalising the utilisation of their labour.
  • It helps the government keep track of the number of workers employed and provides a legal basis for regulating their conditions of service.
  • In no case, shall the wages be lower than what is prescribed under the Minimum Wages Act.

What does the proposed Code say on migrant workers?

  • The attempt to consolidate laws relating to occupational safety, health and working conditions means that many separate laws concerning various kinds of workers and labourers will have to be repealed.
  • The proposed law seeks to repeal 13 Acts such as the Factories Act, Mines Act, Dock Workers’ Act, the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, and other enactments relating to those working in plantations, construction, cinema, beedi and cigarette manufacture, motor transport, and the media.
  • Regarding inter-State migrant workers, the Act includes them in the definition of ‘contract labour’. At the same time, an inter-State migrant worker is also separately defined as a person recruited either by an employer or a contractor for an establishment situated in another State.
  • The Code contains provisions similar to the 1979 Act regarding registration of establishments, licensing of contractors and the inclusion of terms and conditions on hours of work, wages and amenities.
  • Further, both the old Act and the proposed Code envisage the payment of a displacement allowance and a journey allowance to inter-State migrant workers.

Is there a loss of benefits for inter-State workers if the Code comes into force?

  • Even though the Code seeks to preserve many of the protections and rights given to inter-State workers, trade unions feel that it is always better to have a separate enactment.
  • The unprecedented distress and misery faced by migrant workers due to the current lockdown has drawn attention to a beneficial legislation dedicated to their welfare.
  • The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) has highlighted the fact that both the States where they work and home States have obligations cast upon them in the existing law.
  • Despite the fact that it has been poorly implemented, if at all, labour unions feel that preserving the separate enactment and enforcing it well is a better option than subsuming it under a larger code.

-Source: The Hindu

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