Most labourers unaware of their rights, welfare scheme

The increasing instances of mistreatment of migrant workers point towards an exploitative strategy by contractors hiring them, Martin Patrick, a social scientist with expertise in the area of unorganised labour force, has said.

Mr. Patrick said there was no evidence indicating a declining labour force in the State that calls for increasing deployment of migrant workers, in the first place.

“Even when local workers are available, contractors overlook them to avoid paying higher wages. Besides, in the case of local workers, the contractor would be obliged to make greater commitments in the event of contingencies like death whereas in the case of migrant workers, he can easily forgo such commitments.

“At the best, the contractor needs to bear the hospital expenses and arrange for the transport of the dead body back home, whereas in the case of local workers, he would be compelled to pay compensations to the families and meet such other commitments. So, it is evident that engaging migrant workers is part of a greater exploitation strategy by contractors,” Mr. Patrick said.

Authorities continue to remain silent spectators to the exploitation of migrant workers for which they offer petty excuses. One such excuse is that migrant workers neither register themselves with the labour department nor cooperate when approached for the same. But that’s because of the fear psychosis drilled into them by the contractors who constantly threaten them. Mr. Patrick found quite strange the police argument that using migrant workers is unconstitutional. “We are in country where there is an Act governing migrant workers. So, how can engaging migrant workers be unconstitutional,” he wondered.

Kerala is the only State to have implemented an Inter State Migrant Workers’ Welfare Scheme, in 2010. But sadly, migrant workers continue to be kept in the dark about the scheme as their ignorance benefits the contractors.

Earlier, the scheme provided for Rs. 50,000 to the families of migrant workers losing their lives compared with Rs. 2 lakh for families of local workers. “We pressed for bringing in parity as the government is responsible for equal treatment of the labour force without discriminating based on their domicile. Based on a memorandum that we submitted to the Finance Minister, the compensation was eventually hiked to Rs. 1 lakh. Hopefully, someone will intervene on behalf of the two dead migrant workers in the city and earn their families their rightful compensation,” he said.

The proper implementation of the Inter State Migrant Workmen Act would resolve 75-90 per cent of the existing problems faced by migrant workers. There was lack of initiative by authorities, including the police and labour departments, to ensure safety at the work place, Mr. Patrick said.

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