Unsafe working conditions with no guarantee of compensation in case of accidents
Despite being a vital cog in turning the industrial wheel, migrant workers continue to be victims of negligent and apathetic treatment as the death of four migrants at a plywood factory at Perumbavoor suggests.
Desperate to earn a livelihood, migrant workers are forced to work in unsafe conditions often risking their lives with no guarantee of compensation in the event of an accident.
Martin Patrick, a social scientist and expert in the field of unorganized labour force, said that on paper migrant workers or their relatives were eligible for benefits under the Factories Act and the Inter State Migrant Workers Welfare Scheme apart from insurance claim in the event of a fatal accident.
“A unit using power and employing more than ten workers are covered under the Factories Act and the employer is required to register all workers and bestow them with all relevant social security benefits whereas dependents of migrants meeting with fatal accidents in the workplace are entitled to Rs.1 lakh under the Inter State Migrant Workers Welfare Scheme,” he said.
“But in reality they hardly receive any of these benefits with their employer and contractor concerned exploiting their circumstances and abject lack of awareness about their rights. Often the employer through the contractor resorts to informal and illegal payment and settles the issue by merely paying for the transportation of the body of the migrant worker back home. It is because of the illegality involved in the employment of migrant workers that often the employers go into hiding as soon as something goes amiss,” Mr. Patrick said.
Employers are expected to provide insurance coverage to migrant workers as well. But that doesn’t happen as these workers are mostly not registered and their names would be missing from the muster rolls. Thampan Thomas, a lawyer and trade union leader, said while the dependants of migrant workers were entitled to statutory benefits under the Workmen’s Compensation Act in the event of fatal accidents tabulated based on the earning capacity of the deceased if he had been alive and worked up until a certain age, they were likely to get a far bigger compensation if they approached the court.
“Death of migrant workers at workplace cannot be construed as accidents but culpable homicide since in majority of cases there is an element of criminal negligence on the part of the employer. But it is hardly pressed in the court since these innocent people and their dependents have no idea about such possibilities and often settle for the meagre compensation,” Mr. Thomas said.
Migrants were also deprived of the benefits of welfare fund board because of the elaborate formalities involved in registration to qualify for those benefits and the inadequate amount set apart for the purpose.
Drawing from his own bitter experiences in the past where he had to back out from attempts to get migrant workers and their dependents their rightful claims owing to protest of local people and employers, Mr. Thomas said it was high time a massive awareness campaign was conducted and the government machinery intervened to set things right.
“A separate legislation should be formulated for the welfare of migrant workers,” Mr. Thomas said.