Social welfare of migrant workforce: Adding portability to benefits

A government-appointed panel has said that a large section of urban workers lose access to social benefits due to intra-state and inter-state migration. It suggested that domicile-related restrictions be removed for the welfare of urban migrants

Written by Shalini Nair | New Delhi | Updated: February 18, 2017 3:14 am
migrant workforce, rural migrants, migration to cities, migration for work, Economic Survey of India, census, male migrants, india news The panel has identified 54 districts, many of these in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh, which account for half the inter-state male out-migration. Illustration: CR Sasikumar

Noting that the lack of portability of social benefits disadvantages migrant labour, the Union government-appointed inter-ministerial panel on migration has made a case for portability of food security benefits and benefits conferred under the affirmative action lists for Dalits and Adivasis, a special focus on migrants in policies pertaining to healthcare, education and housing and removal of any existing domicile requirements in job provision. The working group, headed by Partho Mukhopadhyay from the Centre for Policy Research, has recently submitted its report to M Venkaiah Naidu, the Minister of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation. The report, yet to be made public, states that migrants lose access to social benefits owing to both intra-state and inter-state migration, and hence source and destination based interventions are required mainly on this front.

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The panel has identified 54 districts, many of these in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh, which account for half the inter-state male out-migration. The report states that migrant workers constitute 38 per cent of the male manufacturing workforce in urban areas. Its findings also show that women, who list marriage as their main reason for migration, are increasingly joining the workforce in urban India. Most importantly, the findings show an accelerating urban to urban movement.

The recently-released Economic Survey of India 2016-17 has noted that the annual growth of labour migration has nearly doubled in the two decades from 1991-2001 when it was 2.4 per cent to 2001-11 when it rose to 4.5 per cent. While in the 1990s, female migration was limited, it records a change in trend in the 2000s when female migration for work increased at almost twice the rate of male migration. The Economic Survey points out that estimates, based on railway passenger traffic data, show that annual work related migration has doubled from 5-6.5 million in the census of 2011 to 9 million as of now. It notes: “This acceleration has taken place in the backdrop of discouraging incentives such as domicile provisions for working in different states, lack of portability of benefits, legal and other entitlements upon relocation. To sustain this churn, however, these policy hurdles have to be overcome.” It goes on to recommend ‘an inter-state self registration process’ as migrant welfare requires ‘inter-state coordination of fiscal costs of migration.

The report by the housing ministry’s working group on migration expounds on this idea further. It notes that since the affirmative action lists for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are prepared at the state level, due to differences in inter-state classification, such migrants stand to lose out on the benefits conferred to them in their state of origin. It has recommended a series of measures to right this anomaly, from letting the Census separately document the caste of inter-state migrants to making provisions for accommodating such disadvantaged groups in the receiving states.

It also points to the lack of access to housing forcing short-term migrants to live in slums under the constant threat of eviction and displacement, without access to basic services and the perennial lack of safety for women. “Especially in the case of construction workers, who account for more than 10 per cent of the workforce, the panel has made specific recommendation for provision of shelter. Over Rs 20,000 crore worth of funds, collected as labour welfare cess through the years, are lying unutilised. We have said that this money should be used to build houses for the migrant construction workers,” said a panel member.

As per Census 2011, 17.4 per cent of households in urban India — 1.37 crore of the total 7.89 crore urban households — live in slums. Half of these report living in one room or without an exclusive room for themselves. The highest proportion of slum residents in metros is in Mumbai at 41 per cent of total households followed by Kolkata (29 per cent), Chennai (28 per cent), Delhi (14 per cent). The panel has stressed on the need for affordable rental housing through private partnerships as also increased government spending on working women’s hostels with childcare facilities, shelters and dormitories tailored specifically with migrant workers in mind.

The panel, which also comprised members from ministries of rural development, labour, statistics and programme implementation, home affairs and urban development, was appointed in July 2015 to look at the patterns of migration, its impact on housing, infrastructure and livelihoods and chalk out policy interventions. “Once the housing minister approves the report, it will be sent to the various concerned ministries so that they can affect the necessary changes in their policies,” said a member.

The report also states that the first step to ensuring universal access under the Food Security Act is to allow portability of PDS benefits within the state followed by agreements between states so as to guarantee portability for inter-state migrants. Likewise, it has asked for inclusion of migrant children in the annual work plan of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and portable health care for all workers in the unorganised sector that is delinked from their employment status. States are also to ensure that there are no domicile related restrictions in their employment laws and skilling programmes.

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