- On June 29, the Supreme Court finally delivered its judgment on the plight of migrant labour. The judgement was notable for two main reasons.
- First, it recognised that there was the large-scale exclusion of migrant workers and other informal workers from existing schemes due to the lack of their registration and outdated eligibility lists. It noted that no benefits will be denied to migrant workers for want of an Aadhaar card and that food assistance will be provided for migrants who were not covered by the National Food Security Act.
- Second, it connected informal workers and migrant workers, both of whom experience exclusion, and mandated that the portal for registration of all informal/migrant workers should be fully operational before July 31.
Significance of Social Security to Migrants:
- Investment in social protection is not charity, it is an investment in workers’ productivity and in equitable growth. Providing social protection is, as the UN mooted in 2009 when it spelt out the social protection floor (SPF) initiative after the global financial crisis, the surest way out of a crisis by boosting demand at the bottom of the pyramid.
- The report of the Advisory Committee of the ILO, in which India was represented by its labour secretary, provides a strong rationale for instituting a universal SPF during economic crises.
- As a result, all constituents of the ILO adopted Recommendation 202 on social protection floors at the International Labour Conference in 2012.
Steps taken by the govt.:
- The Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, was approved by Parliament in December 2008.
- But it lacks the mandatory elements of the NCEUS’s proposals and included neither a National Minimum Social Security Package, nor the provision for mandatory registration.
- Estimates show that the central government’s expenditure on all major social protection programmes declined from 1.96 per cent of GDP in 2008-09 to 1.6 per cent in 2013-14 and to only 1.28 per cent in 2019-20.
- The National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) had pointed out that the circular migrant workers were a disadvantaged segment among informal workers.
- Comprehensive law: The NCEUS had advocated a comprehensive law for the protection of the rights of all informal workers, including migrants, home workers, and domestic workers. Universal registration: NCEUS had also recommended a universal registration mechanism based on self-declaration, with the issuance of a smart social security card, and a National Minimum Social Security Package.
- Guaranteed social security/social protection: We need the provision of a minimum level of guaranteed social security/social protection for all informal workers and their households within a definite time frame.
- More public spending: Guaranteed social protection would involve a clear framework and a commitment to greater public resources being spent on social protection as a large class of workers in India do not have an identifiable employer and a contributory social insurance framework will not work for them.
- Recommendation 202: Government should embrace ILO’s Recommendation 202 and work towards these in a time-bound manner.
- To end the silent, painful, and enduring crisis for the workers, as well as the crisis for the economy, the government must urgently recognise the right to social security, embedded both in the Indian Constitution and international covenants.