COVID-19 | Plea in SC seeks minimum wages for migrant workers

A migrant worker and her son run towards a bus as they return to their village, during a 21-day nationwide lockdown to limit the spreading of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Ghaziabad.   | Photo Credit: REUTERS

The Supreme Court has expressed concern over the plight of migrant workers, especially in the unorganised sector, during the lockdown and asked the Union government to respond by April 7 to a petition demanding that Central and State governments should pay them minimum wages.


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A Bench led by Justice L. Nageswara Rao, through videoconferencing, took serious note of a petition filed by activists Harsh Mander and Anjali Bhardwaj, who said that the declaration of the 21-day national lockdown without prior information “precipitated an unprecedented humanitarian crisis” for migrant workers, resulting in their mass exodus to their hometowns.

The petition said the Centre and the States should, either jointly or severally, take responsibility to pay migrant workers at least a week’s wages for their sustenance.


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The Bench took suo motu cognisance of a letter sent by Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra highlighting the condition of hundreds of migrants stranded without jobs and essential items during the lockdown that started from March 24. It is an attempt to enforce social distancing to prevent the infection from spreading among the general population.

Mass exodus

However, shortly after the lockdown declaration, a mass exodus of panicked migrant workers was witnessed. They were moving from the metros, where they had come for work, to their home towns. The government has maintained that the panic was caused by 'fake' news.

The Disaster Management Act of 2005 mandates the Centre and the States to pay compensation to those who have suffered losses during a disaster. The law requires the government to prepare a national plan to combat the disaster.

“The order for which no prior intimation was given, created a panic across the country and led to the instantaneous loss of jobs and wages of millions of migrant workers employed in establishments across India or self-employed as street vendors, rickshaw pullers, domestic house helps, petty job workers, etc. This led to the large scale exodus of these migrant workers to their home towns,” the petition, represented by advocate Peasant Bhushan, said.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta countered that a lot of work is being organised at the ground level to combat COVID-19.

Mr. Mander and Ms. Bhardwaj urged the court to direct the government to immediately activate National and State Advisory Committees of experts in the field of disaster management and public health to prepare national and State disaster management plans for dealing with COVID-19.

“The lockdown has precipitated an unprecedented humanitarian crisis especially among the class of migrant workers and it is the government, both Central and State, that have to take adequate measures in accordance with National and State plans drawn out under the Disaster Management Act, 2005,” the petition said.

The lockdown declaration spread panic to such an extent that “migrant workers crowded in large numbers of many thousands at bus terminals, railway stations, inter-state borders, etc to find their way home, potentially exposing them to the virus and escalating in fact the risk of the spread of this virus,” it said.


Also read: Coronavirus | Amid the exodus, a plea for food, medicine, transport


Mr. Mander and Ms. Bhardwaj criticised the Ministry of Home Affairs’ communication that employers should continue to pay the wages for their workers. They communication did not take into account the harsh realities that the establishments which employed migrant workers were mostly small themselves and can ill-afford to pay their workers’ wages during the lockdown. Besides, these establishments have also been closed due to the lockdown, generating no income.

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Printable version | Jul 28, 2021 11:01:44 AM |

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