Enable vote, map skill, inter-state teams: First migrant policy draft

Last year’s migrant crisis sent 10 million labourers home, according to numbers provided to Parliament by Santosh Gangwar, Minister of State (Independent Charge) of Labour and Employment.

Ensuring the political inclusion of migrant workers so they can demand their entitlements, setting up inter-state coordination mechanisms, embedding a migration wing in each state’s labour department, getting source states and destination states to work with each other.

These are among a broad range of proposals in the first draft national policy on migrant labour prepared by NITI Aayog and a working sub-group as a response to the Covid fallout on migrants.

Last year’s migrant crisis sent 10 million labourers home, according to numbers provided to Parliament by Santosh Gangwar, Minister of State (Independent Charge) of Labour and Employment.

Responding to demands from a cross-section of states, experts and civil society, for a nationwide migrant workers policy, the Labour Ministry requested Niti Aayog to lead the initiative. Gangwar announced the National Action Plan in the Lok Sabha on February 8.

The Niti Aayog draft will be sent to the Labour Ministry soon, said an official, en route to Cabinet and Parliament.

Identifying the challenges, the draft policy underlines how “political exclusion” – their facing hurdles in voting — leaves migrants “unable to make political demands for entitlements or seek reforms.”

The key proposals in the draft include:

Mechanisms to “enable voting” so that political inclusion will “enhance accountability of political leadership towards welfare of migrant workers of their respective states.”

Ministry of Labour to set up a special unit on migration.

Inter-state migration management bodies to cover the nation’s key migration corridors: Uttar Pradesh and Mumbai; Bihar and Delhi; Western Odisha and Andhra Pradesh; Rajasthan and Gujarat, and Odisha and Gujarat.

Each state should establish a migrant workers section in their Labour department. Source states should send nodal officers to destination states to work collectively with the labour officers, it said.

Government policies should not hinder but seek to facilitate internal migration.

Migrants should be the target of Disaster Risk Reduction (DDR) programmers in urban centres.

Access to health and other social protection programmes should be portable across state borders.

Skill mapping; using Aadhaar to avail of social security schemes, psycho-social assistance through a national helpline.

The Niti Aayog’s working group has met twice so far. The group includes members from the Ministries of Health; Housing and Urban Affairs; Rural Development; Micro, mall, and Medium Enterprises; Skill Development and Entrepreneurshi;, Road Transport and Highways, and Labour.

It also includes representatives from Tata Trusts, Centre for Youth and Social Development; Disha Foundation; Aajeevika Bureau; Deendayal Research Institute; Management Sansadhan Evam Maha Vikas Sansthan; International Organisation for Migration; United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; UN-Habitat, and World Health Organization.

The draft flags how a fragmented labour market obscures supply chains and relationships between business owners and workers. “The existing gap in the unionization of migrant workers is also an important reason for the precarious nature of their employment,” it says.

Identifying institutional gaps, the draft explains how states have limited engagement with migrants. For example, in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, anti-trafficking units focused on minor women have suffered with inadequate staff and poor supervision of migration trends.

Programmes such as MNREGA and State Rural Livelihood Mission are meant to check out-migration by tribals but that hasn’t quite happened, says the draft.

A reason for this, it says, is that tribals are not “actively included” in skill development schemes and were not able to access them because of “lack of awareness and tedious paper work and processes.” So the policy calls for the state’s Tribal department to have one inspector at the block level and Labour one at the district level.

Calling on employers to be transparent about their value chains and formalize work contracts with migrant workers, the draft policy calls for a “rights-based” approach that taps the migrants’ potential rather than hand-outs and cash-transfers.

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