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Why in news?

  • As thousands of migrant workers walk across India in a desperate attempt to reunite with their families, States are competing with one another to provide greater relaxation of labour laws to appear ‘industry friendly’.
  • U.P. Government has cleared an ordinance exempting businesses and industries from labour laws, except for a handful, for three years.
  • The Centre has done the same through its many circulars and clarifications issued during the lockdown.

What has happened so far with respect to Migrants?

  • The sudden announcement of the nationwide lockdown on March 23 left an estimated 13 crore migrants with no way to return home and no money.
  • When the lockdown was relaxed from April 20, the Standard Operating Procedure issued permitted asymptomatic workers to return to their worksites where they were to reside.

Actions that seem to prevent workers from Returning

  • The April 29 order permitting inter-State movement of migrant workers – permitted only “stranded workers” to leave, with the Centre clarifying that workers “otherwise residing normally at places, other than their native places for purposes of work” are not “stranded”.
  • Another circular that the workers would have to pay for their train tickets.

Violating rights

  • Article 23 of the Constitution prohibits “forced labour”.
  • The Supreme Court, in PUDR v. Union of India (1982), held that “the word ‘force’ must be construed to include- the force arising from the compulsion of economic circumstances which leaves no choice of alternatives to a person in want and compels him to provide labour or service even though the remuneration received for it is less than the minimum wage.”
  • It would also run afoul of the International Labour Organization’s ‘Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience Recommendation, 2017’ which requires states to ensure marginalised groups “freely choose employment” while rebuilding after any disaster.
  • Thus, the various Home Ministry directives and State ordinances would be violative not only of India’s own Constitution but also its international commitments.

­-Source: The Hindu

December 2023