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Social security net could be Modi govt’s route to protect unorganised workers

The labour and finance ministries are working on the proposal, even as RSS’ labour wing BMS is asking govt to formulate a new national policy on labourers.

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New Delhi: Anticipating huge increase in unemployment numbers after the Covid-19 crisis, the Narendra Modi government is working on a proposal to provide a social security net to unorganised sector workers, ThePrint has learnt.

The labour ministry is discussing a move to provide minimum social security measures like health insurance, public provident fund (PPF) benefits, cash incentive to people working as domestic help, guards, taxi drivers, rickshaw puller and contract labourers, who don’t come under any such cover.

Due to the budget session of Parliament being curtailed, the government did not move the Labour Code Bill, which proposed to provide a safety net to unorganised sector workers. But a labour ministry official told ThePrint that the government may now bring in an ordinance, or use the existing framework for the purpose.

Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the labour affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has asked the government for a new national policy on migrant workers.

BMS president Saji Narayanan told ThePrint: “Existing laws are not helping unorganised migrant workers. Several state laws are old and outdated. We have requested the central government for a new national policy on migrant workers.

“There should be policy framework for identification of migrant workers, and a national identity card. The ID card should be portable, because workers move from state to state for work, so that benefit should continue in other states.”

Since the Covid-19 outbreak began and a nationwide lockdown was imposed to curb its spread, around 24 lakh migrant workers are living in state-run relief camps. An additional 54 lakh workers have been provided food by the central and state governments, while NGOs have fed over 30 lakh workers, according to data submitted by the Union home ministry to the Supreme Court in first week of April.

“Several crores of workers are unemployed due to the lockdown, and there is no guarantee that everybody will be back in the employment chain. The government should take lessons from this crisis for a better policy framework,” Narayanan said.

Also read: ‘At least Modi is feeding us’ — migrants, poor say lockdown is tough but give PM a thumbs up

Mapping has begun

The labour ministry official, who didn’t wish to be named, told ThePrint: “The proposal under discussion is to provide safety net to inter-state migrant workers, who are stranded in several states. Discussions about providing incentive to this section are at an advance stage.”

The official added: “It may come under the finance ministry’s sectoral package for workers. It will cover all these unorganised sector workers and labourers.”

The official also said the ordinance route is only one of the options under consideration. “One of the options is to bring in an ordinance, and another is to give incentives through the existing framework,” he said, adding that the government has held several rounds of discussions in the last two weeks, and the issue is under active consideration of the finance ministry.

The official said the labour ministry has begun mapping migrant workers stranded in states from the first week of April — names, addresses, Aadhaar numbers and bank account details of more than 20 lakh migrant workers has been collected so far, while a few states are yet to respond.

Data of domestic workers, construction workers, rickshaw pullers, and autorickshaw drivers is also being collected. “States are providing relief, and more central incentives are in the pipeline,” he said.

Also read: 5 ‘R’s that can prevent another migrant workers’ crisis like Covid-19

Parliamentary committee recommendation

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour had recommended in February that unorganised migrant labourers should be part of the Labour Code Bill and inter-state migrant labourers should be given benefit of social security, just like organised sector workers.

The original bill said the code would not apply to contract workers of the central and state governments. However, the committee recommended covering around 50 crore unorganised workers.

Bhartruhari Mahtab, Lok Sabha MP from the Biju Janata Dal and chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour, told ThePrint that it was up to the government to bring in an ordinance or wait for the monsoon session of Parliament.

“We have recommended including migrant workers under the social security net, just like organised workers. We have asked the government to register unorganised workers through state governments and labour commissioners,” he said.

“The most challenging part is identification and registration. The workers come into the cities through some agency,” Mahtab said.

“It is up to the government to decide whether to bring in an ordinance or wait for the monsoon session. The urgent need is to help the workers,” he said.

The BJD MP stressed the need for a sectoral package for MSMEs and the unorganised sector.

“Coronavirus has shown cities are a burden on rural India, and there is need for city-specific administration and planning for better future of migrants and other citizens. Over-centralisation of power in states and the Centre is not helping citizens in the long run,” Mahtab said.

Also read: Rotis, mobile recharges, carrom boards — how Kerala fixed its migrant worker anger


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