The Union Labour Ministry’s helpline numbers for migrant workers are more of a “post office”, a group of researchers from the Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN) said on Monday, May 24, thus concluding that lessons from last year have not been learnt by the Centre and that the systems in place currently are “at best a patchy afterthought”.
In April this year, the Ministry of Labour and Employment had announced the rejuvenation of 20 control rooms set up last year to mitigate the problems being faced by the migrant workforce. The decision was taken in the wake of COVID-19 resurgence in the country that necessitated imposition of restrictions on movement by state governments.
The aggrieved workers could access these control rooms through email, mobile and WhatsApp, as per the ministry’s press statement dated April 21. The control rooms are to be managed by the Labour Department officials including Deputy Chief Labour Commissioner of the respective region, the statement added.
The details of the control room, as is in the statement, shows that the each control room is allotted a jurisdiction area. In total, contact details of about 100 labour officials has been shared.
But an assessment of these helplines painted a grim picture altogether. “We observe that the helplines are not worker-friendly and are deficient in responding to the multiple types of crises faced by workers,” SWAN said on Monday.
SWAN, which is a group of researcher-volunteers that became active last year in response to the nationwide lockdown-triggered migrant crisis, said that its volunteers called 80 officers from across the 20 zones and enquired about the assistance being provided to migrant workers with regard to non-payment of wages, provisions of rations, financial assistance among others.
NewsClick had earlier reported on how these issues had resurfaced this year in the wake of intermittent lockdowns that were imposed by multiple state governments, leaving the migrant workforce with more anxiety.
Most labour officials stated that they can only resolve cases of workers employed on central government projects, while “every single official” asked for complaints to be submitted in writing, SWAN found.
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There is no process in place to track the follow up action on the complaints, SWAN said in a statement, adding that most officials did not offer any leads for ration support.
Moreover, SWAN also hinted on how the absence of any provisions for protection of workers this year affected the delivery of any relief to the needy ones.
Last year, in March, the Ministry of Home Affairs had issued an interim order instructing the landlords not to collect any rent for a month. In the same order, the firms were directed to pay wages to workers even when their units were closed “without any deduction during the lockdown”; it was later withdrawn in the month of May that year.
Additionally, the Labour Ministry had also issued an “advisory” last year against retrenchment and wage cuts following the country-wide lockdown. However, no such advisory, let alone any directions, have been issued this year.
Thus, SWAN concluded, “Without adequate facilitation, acknowledgement, follow-up and creating a culture of rights, we don’t believe that the Government is doing enough in responding to this grim situation.”
On Monday, the volunteers group said it had found that only 8% of the 10,092 migrant workers surveyed till now had received any money from their employer this year since the “work had stopped,” at their respective work sites. While 58% of them had rations left for less than two days, 76% of them have less than Rs 300 left with them.