More than a third of India’s population are internal migrants, while 75% of the youth of the country are migrants. However, unless social benefits are made portable between States and regions — in practice and not just on paper — these migrants cannot fully leverage work opportunities, especially in urban India, argues a new report on global migration.
The report, “People on The Move – Advancing the Discourse on Migration and Jobs”, was released on Wednesday by the Centre for Policy Research and the JustJobs Network (JJN).
“In India, we face a formidable challenge. There are different estimates, but ours suggests that just about five million enter the labour force on an annual basis. We have 356 million youth between the ages 15 to 29. Whichever way one looks at it, we are not creating enough jobs,” JJN president Sabina Dewan said.
Of those young people, three of every four are migrants, many leaving rural areas in search of work in the urban labour market. The report notes that while China’s spectacular economic growth has been fuelled by just such a migration from villages to urban centres of industrial production, the situation is different in India. Instead of long-term migration, there are large flows of short-term migrant labour, anywhere from 40 to 100 million.
“People are working in cities, but not moving permanently…While expected wage differentials between the rural and urban can be an incentive for movement, this potential migration is hindered by the loss of social protection, the architecture of which is often tied to location and not portable,” says the report.
Regular and casual work
Households are using such short-term migration as a risk-distribution strategy, says the report, pointing out that the casual worker or daily wager in urban areas actually gets less in price-adjusted terms than his counterpart in rural areas.
The wage premium of urban areas only comes into play when migrants get regular, as opposed to casual work.
Without social protection networks, migrants find it difficult to move from casual to regular work.
The report argues that while government-driven social schemes are available to all on paper, migrants are discriminated against on the ground.
Access to health insurance, maternal and child health schemes, educational rights, housing benefits, and even food security are often barred to the migrant worker.
The report argues that the government can begin correcting this lacuna by starting with the low-hanging fruit of the construction sector. A third of all male workers and two-thirds of all female workers in the sector are migrants. The Building and Other Construction Workers Act already mandates the collection of funds from industry for the social welfare of workers, potentially to the tune of ₹20,000 crore each year.
These funds can be used to support cities in creating quality rental housing and extending basic services to migrant settlements, and improving the portability of PDS, health and childcare schemes, making the migration experience less precarious.
“Migrants cannot fully leverage work opportunities in urban India unless they have a robust social protection net to reduce risk and offer them a foothold in the city. Improved portability of social benefits can be a key strategy for more inclusive access to employment, as India moves to an urban future,” says the report.