Labour Migrant: No place to go?

This article has been written by Ishaan Garg. Ishaan is currently a student in Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, GGSIPU.

Labour migration is the movement of a labour force from one location to another. This can include different forms of migration like inter-continental, seasonal, short or long duration migrants etc. Regardless of the duration of their stay, labor migrants face myriad challenges at their destination. These challenges range from longer working hours, poor living and working conditions, social isolation, political exclusion to poor access to basic amenities like identity documentation, social entitlements, housing etc. At destination, migrant labour affects markets, lowering the cost of labour. Migration also affects the labour market at the place of origin. Migrant earnings affect income, expenditure patterns and investment and changes relations at household and community levels.

Today, India is among the top 25 fastest-growing country worldwide. A significant source of this growth is rural-to-urban migration, as an increasing number of people do not find sufficient economic opportunities in rural areas and move instead to towns and cities. This large scale movement is also due to the inter-regional disparities, differences between socio-economic classes, intrusion of outsiders and skewed development policies. Whatever may be the cause, there is no denying the fact that the economic growth in India today hinges on mobility of labour. In some parts of India, three out of four households include a migrant. Labour migration is complex. Streams differ in duration, origin, destination and migrant characteristics. Economic and social impacts on migrants and their families are variable. While there seems to be some positive impact on incomes and investment, the major function of migration is to act as a ‘safety valve’ in poor areas. The impact on asset and income inequality is more mixed. Internal mobility is critical to the livelihoods of many people, especially among tribal people, socially deprived groups and people from resource-poor areas. Inspite of the fact that a large portion of population is labour migrant, there is little research done or data collected. This has led to a situation that the migrant labours are ignored as if almost invisible to the policy makers. What few legislations are in place are not properly implemented. There is a large gap between the legislation and enforcement which has further deteriorated the situation. Poor migrants themselves being at a vulnerable position have little or no bargaining capacity. Most rich class takes advantage of their situation and rampantly exploit them. The migrants are drowned in a vicious circle of poverty, poor working conditions and lack of basic amenities. Most migrant labourers are also employed in the unorganised sector, where the lack of regulation compounds their vulnerability. They are largely ignored by government and NGO programmes. Legislations fail due to over-stretched regulatory authorities, the state sees migrants as a low priority and because migrant workers are at a socially desolated state with little support from civil society.

International migration, though involving a small proportion of the workforce in India, has important local impacts. Since independence, two distinct forms of migration have emerged in India: people with professional expertise or technical qualifications have migrated to industrialised countries, and semi-skilled and skilled workers have migrated to the Middle East. Migration to industrialised countries grew steadily between 1950 and 2000 with the boom in IT sector. Nearly 1.25 million Indians had emigrated to the US, Canada, UK and Australia during this period. Today, some 3 million Indian migrants live in Gulf countries. Most of these migrants come from state like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab etc. The current number of Indian migrants overseas accounts for less than 1% of the total workforce in India, so has little direct impact on the national labour market. However, the effects of migration are significant in major sending regions which can be seen through the impacts on demographic structures, expenditure patterns, social structures and poverty levels. External migration flows are also regulated by the government. The main instrument of regulation is the Emigration Act 1983 which deals with the departure of Indian workers for overseas contractual employment and seeks to safeguard their interests. However efforts to direct manpower export have been minimal.


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