92% of workers stopped receiving payment from employers: Report

SWAN, which relaunched its helpline in April, releases findings based on over 8,000 callers

Published - June 16, 2021 11:19 pm IST - Bengaluru

Around 92% of the country’s workforce is experiencing ‘a historic and unprecedented crisis’, according to the report from the Stranded Workers Action Network.

Around 92% of the country’s workforce is experiencing ‘a historic and unprecedented crisis’, according to the report from the Stranded Workers Action Network.

Migrant workers, one of the more vulnerable groups left in lurch during the national lockdown called by the Centre last year, are facing another crisis during the second wave of COVID-19.

This time around, the problem is compounded by a lack of savings, which they used up last year. Around 92% of the country’s workforce who lack access to social safety nets are experiencing “a historic and unprecedented crisis”, said a report from the Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN), which relaunched its helpline in April 2021.

While it may take months to get a clear idea of the full impact of the second wave of the pandemic on migrant workers and informal workers, the report by SWAN sheds light on the extent of the crisis. After re-launching its helpline, SWAN, which began last year as a voluntary effort to mobilise relief for stranded migrant workers, was in contact with 1,396 worker groups: little over 8,000 people, including 4,836 women and children. Once restrictions were imposed and work stopped, 92% of workers stopped receiving money from employers. Around 56% of workers reported that their work had stopped for more than a month, said the report.

As per their findings, 57% of the callers had less than two days of rations left when they spoke with SWAN, while 76% of the workers had less than ₹200 left with them. Around 34% of the workers had not been paid their pending wages for completed work, while 13% of them had been paid only partially.

A majority of the callers (60%), were daily wage workers; 6% were drivers, domestic help, etc. and 16% were self-employed. The median daily wages of those who reached out was ₹308.3, stated the authors of the report. Delhi, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh accounted for the maximum number of callers. Compared to 2020, a higher proportion of women and children reached out to SWAN this year. “While last year less than a quarter of those who reached out to us included women and children, in 2021, 84% of those calling in were with women and children. There could be several reasons for this. One, that when the second wave hit and lockdown announcements were made, groups of male workers were able to make quick decisions to return home and those with families stayed behind,” said the authors.

Stories of limited availability of food and rations, lack of access to basic healthcare, low levels of income and earnings, increasing levels of indebtedness, played out again for the second consecutive year. The report found that 93% of the migrant workers who called had a ration card but this was not functional in the place where they were stranded.

The Centre’s response to this crisis was lacking, the report stated. “...It [Union government] appears to have all but abdicated responsibility, instead expecting the states to respond to the crisis. There have been no budgetary extensions or policy announcements that cover migrant workers’ distress,” it said. The report also found that responses from State governments were inadequate. “Many of the policy initiatives introduced thus far have been limited in terms of coverage, procedurally confusing and alienating, on the whole failing to account for the needs of migrant workers and their families,” said the authors.

According to the report -- Over 1,200 workers’ groups or their families (7,050) people received money transfers from SWAN, with 6% of these groups requiring an additional cash transfer due to the continued lack of external aid. The total amount of money crowdsourced and transferred directly to workers’ accounts was ₹3.30 million.

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