New Delhi: Framing a National Employment Policy to look into labour welfare, setting up of a ‘Migrant Workers Welfare Fund’ and enrolling them under Ayushman Bharat — these are some of the measures suggested by a ministerial panel to motivate the workers to get back to work.
According to sources in the government, a group of ministers (GoM) led by Union Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Thawar Chand Gehlot has recommended to the Modi government a slew of measures to encourage lakhs of migrant workers, who have returned or are returning to their native villages after losing jobs due to the Covid-19 lockdown, to come back to the cities and resume work.
The GoM has said every migrant worker should be automatically enrolled for the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PM-JAY), popularly known as Ayushman Bharat — the government’s flagship health insurance scheme — so they are able to access cashless medical facilities at their workplace.
In case a different version of PM-JAY has been implemented by state governments, the migrant workers should have access to those health schemes too, said a senior government official, who didn’t want to be named.
The panel has also suggested setting up a ‘Migrant Workers Welfare Fund’ under which every migrant worker should be automatically enrolled into the fund that will operate on equal contributions from the worker, employer, home state government, destination state government and the central administration.
This fund will be managed by the labour ministry, and will address the requirements of accommodation, health insurance and unemployment allowance in case a migrant worker shifts a job.
National Employment Policy
The GoM has also recommended framing a National Employment Policy (NEP).
“This could be a vision document with a medium to long-term perspective providing a framework for an inter-sectoral strategy for employment and economic growth to enhance the skills and human resource development, including overall labour welfare and labour market governance in the country,” said the official mentioned above.
He said the “basic contours of the NEP would be categorised into initiatives that can be taken to create enabling environment for setting up of new enterprises and industries leading to demand of workers on the one hand, and measures to increase employability and supply of skilled workforce in the labour market system, on the other hand”.
The GoM has also suggested confidence-building measures such as scholarships to the children of the migrant workers for their schooling, access to anganwadis for their children, textbooks and school uniforms, water and sanitation measures at their place of stay, ration card portability and recreational activities by their employers.
The migrant workers leaving the big cities has resulted in a huge shortage in the workforce, threatening to cripple businesses and industries where they worked before the lockdown.
“The labour force was one of the most crucial links in the supply chain. With them gone, work has been affected all over, in industrial and manufacturing units, small and big businesses, retail chains, etc. There will be damaging consequences if the migrant workers don’t return,” said a second government official.
Recommendations for construction workers
The GoM also recommended a drive can be launched to enroll around 2 crore construction workers, who are eligible but have not registered the Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW) Act.
“This will provide pension, social assistance, housing loans education benefits, group insurance, maternity benefits and skill training to all the workers. The current processes of registration and renewal in the BOCW Act, rules and guidelines should be simplified and registration should be done on a mobile app,” said the first government official.
“A mechanism for ensuring portability of welfare benefits under BOCW Welfare Boards should also be developed for construction workers who are travelling to other states frequently for work,” he added.
The government has already announced some measures targeted at the migrant labourers. Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman Thursday announced a ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ system to enable migrant workers and their family members to access PDS benefits from any Fair Price Shop in the country.
But experts say most of these measures are long-term with none of the schemes like ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ taking off immediately. They also say right now migrant workers need cash for their day-to-day needs instead of schemes that will fructify later.
“A majority of the measures that the government has announced are long-term. It’s of no value to the migrant workers right now. The migrant workforce needs cash in hand right now. Instead of announcing ‘One Nation One Ration Card’, the government could have announced universal PDS entitlement, allowing everyone to pick up ration wherever they are,” said rights activist Nikhil Dey.
He said the only other measure announced by the government that will have an impact is enhancing the MGNREGA budget by Rs 40,000 crore over and above the Rs 60,000 crore that was allocated earlier in the budget.
“MGNREGA will give livelihood security to people who are coming back to the villages,” he added.