In yesterday’s webinar entitled “Labour Law & Migrant Labourers’ Rights,” hosted by Peace and Equality Cell (PEC) on 28 July 2020, we had advocate Amrish Patel join us. Amrish Patel is a trade union leader, member of Jan Sangharsh Manch and a practicing advocate in High Court for more than two decades.
Dhairya Bhatt, a volunteer with PEC, started off by giving an overview of the situation of the migrant labourers’ crisis triggered by the announcement of the lockdown on 24th March, 2020 in India, in lieu of the coronavirus pandemic. He explained how there were mainly two types of migrant labourers’ facing different problems in the face of adversity during the lockdown – those who chose to go back to their homes and those who chose to stay put. This put both factions in difficult situations. The common problems that both faced were lack of money due to no payment of wages given the complete paralysis of all economic activities, lack of food leading to hunger and starvation, and uncertainty of the future of their employment (whether in rural or urban areas).
Then, Ranjan Parmar, Dipsing Chohan, and Ranjan Jadav, on-ground activist and volunteers with PEC spoke about their experiences on dealing with the migrant labourers’ first-hand, providing them with food kits, and helping them in finding transport back to their respective homes, and the problems that they faced while doing this. Some of the main problems involved public reluctance in helping the migrant labourers, fearing that they might be carriers of coronavirus, difficulty in getting them registered on government websites to avail benefits of schemes meant for them (like the Anna Brahma Yojana in Gujarat), and ensuring that the migrant labourers receive pay for the months of the lockdown when they were not able to work.
Finally, advocate Amrish Patel talked at length regarding the implication of invoking the Disaster Management Act, 2005 to handle the pandemic, coupled with the labour law changes that were made in many states across the country during the lockdown. These labour law changes were meant to boost economic activity post lockdown. However, these changes give way to exploitative acts being made on the part of the employers, especially on the unorganised sector of the economy, since they are not protected under any legal contract with the employer. He also talked about how the system of labour contractors works, with them being the middlemen between employers and labourers. This gives rise to less than minimum wage payment, which often goes under the radar. He further talked about how his organisation challenged the labour law changes in Gujarat by going to the High Court. They were not able to reverse the decision to increase working hours from 8 hours per day to 12 hours per day, however, they were able to reverse the decision to pay them less despite the increase in working hours.