India being a democratic nation, upheld the principles of social and economic justice. And has ratified several international conventions relating to labour rights and protection. However, certain political action often leads to in its violation. The article talks about the plight of migrant labourers in India from the eyes of both economic and social inequalities; what position they hold in the Country, how are they treated by the society, what steps government take to ensure their safety and dignity etc. In addition to this the article deals with the answer to questions on migrant labourers’ crises during the present situation of COVID- 19, which turns out to be the greatest crises of migrant labourers in India’s history.

KEYWORDS: Inequalities, Improper Regulations, Pandemic, Rights, Duties.


The never-ending plight of migrant labours seems to have been rooted in India’s soil. Migrant workers’ treatment like toys had made them the most vulnerable section of the society while facing certain harsh situations. They suffer due to improper regulations framed for them by the government, lack of proper accommodation, food, sanitation facilities, low wages, inaccessibility to state given aid due to non- availability of identity proof and other relevant documents. Apart from that they are subjected to societal indifferences which pulls down their self- esteem.

Migrant workers are protagonists while playing their part in contributing towards country’s economy. According to Irudaya Rajan, faculty at the Centre for Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram, “migrants constitute some 30%- 40% of the economies of many cities.[1]2 But still they are suffering the most during outbreak of the pandemic. To prevent the spread of the virus, the government ordered a nation- wide lockdown for the month of April, which subsequently got extended for three months in total. This move witnessed mass exodus of migrant workers from industrial areas, susceptible to various emotional, psychological and social anguishes. There is a sudden fall in India’s unemployment rate. The current situation has flashed into peoples’ mind about the economic disparities enduring in our country which constitutes as a foremost reason of migrant workers’ struggles. The present crises which migrant workers are facing amid COVID- 19 exceptionally requires the policy makers to draw their attention towards the neglected population of migrant workers.


Though the government had tried to avoid the migrant crises amid COVID- 19 lockdown, however they failed to come up with a systematic and planned evacuation for the migrant workers. One of the reasons of this was lack of data signifying exact numbers of migrant labourers.[2] Government neglected to pay full salaries to them amid lockdown. Also, the initiative to provide rations as relief under the ‘Aatmanibhar Bharat Package’ failed, as many workers do not possess ration cards. Setting up Online portals and database also turned out to be ineffective.

Also, instead of creating favourable conditions for migrant labourers, several States, in lieu of incentivising the economy amidst ongoing COVID- 19 pandemic, are passing Ordinances to suspend labour laws in their respective states. On May 8, 2020, UP government passed such Ordinance of suspension for period of three years, undermining the occupational safety and security of the workers. On May 5, 2020, government of MP passed a notification in gazette for suspending labour laws subject to certain exceptions. State of Rajasthan has extended the working hours of labours for period of three months. State of Gujarat and State of HP has also exempted factories form following the provisions of labour laws.[3] On this regard, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has also raised concerns, after ten central trade unions send letters to it pointing out the Indian government’s abrogation of all basic labour rights.[4] It can be argued that most of the India’s migrant labour population falls under unorganised sector and thus are not governed by labour laws. According to R Radhakrishnan Committee Report, “informal workers constitute 92% of the total workforce”, however, the reason for this is alsoan attributed of improper implementation of policies by authorities.


Government failed to comply with provisions of Indian statutes protecting the rights of migrant workers. According to the Disaster Management Act, 2005, the state is empowered to avail resources to deal with harsh situations.[5] According to Part IV of the Constitution of India, it is duty of the state to secure for its citizens right to adequate means of livelihood, wages, protection against exploitation, economic and health assistance. Due to this chaos several PILs were filed in SC court seeking guidelines for safety, security and transportation of migrant workers during the lockdown.[6]

In addition to that, suspension of labour laws resulted in violation of fundamental rights of migrant labours. It violated the right to live a dignified life[7] and right to livelihood[8] of labourers enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Suspension of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, has jeopardized the rights of workers to access justice through the means of settlement or speedy determination of dispute as is incorporated under the act. Suspending the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, caused a denial of ‘living wage’ of the workers. In the case of Bijoy Cotton Mills Ltd v. The State of Ajmer[9], the court held that“The Minimum Wages Actis said to have been passed to secure laborers in the enjoyment of minimum wages and they are to be protected against exploitation by their employers”. Labour laws also protect labourersfrom health hazards, suspension of which in the prevailing situation of COVID- 19 has left workers at mercy of their employees, getting minimal health care protection. There is violation of Article 19(1)(c) of the Constitution, as suspension of labour laws had curtailed the right of migrant workers to protection and regulation of trade unions. Apart from that due to the suspension migrant workers are forced to work in the factories and manufacturing units at cost of their protection provided by several labour laws, which leads to the scenario of forced labour and violates Article 23 of the Constitution of India and Forced Labour Convention, 1930.


The outbreak of the pandemic has given time to employees and their organisation to value the efforts of migrant workers, who travel long distances in lieu of decent amount of money, proportionate to the work they are exposed to. This is the correct time when we stop inclining towards the neo- liberal nature of the state and start to build our country’s policy in the line of social welfare of all sections of society. I believe that, India is capable enough to achieve that and the best way to do so is to focus on strengthening our legislations. The idea of the government to merge all the existing labour laws into four codes is infact the accurate lamp for a brighter tomorrow. On personal level we all can contribute towards alienation of migrant labours crises by turning our back to the prejudice and discriminatory attitude as well as action we have towards them.


  1. https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/opinion-indias-migrant-workers-conundrum-is-not-just-about-economic-inequality-but-social-too/353682

[1] Harish Pullanoor, The internal and external migrants, together, pose a refugee crises that India is ill- prepared for (May 19, 2020), https://qz.com/india/1858209/covid-19-lockdown-exposes-indias-looming-migrant-refugee-crisis/ (last visited July 2, 2020, 11:15 PM).

[2]CD Staff, [Burning issue] migrant workers amid COVID- 19 outbreak (April 7, 2020), https://www.civilsdaily.com/burning-issue-migrant-workers-amid-covid-19-outbreak/(last visited July 3, 2020, 06:35 PM).

[3] Ashima Obhan & Bambi Bhalla, India: Suspension of labour laws amidst COVID- 19 (18 May 2020) https://www.mondaq.com/india/employment-and-workforce-wellbeing/935398/suspension-of-labour-laws-amidst-covid-19 (last visited July 3, 2020, 07:39 PM).

[4] PTI, Labour law suspension: Uphold India’s International commitments, ILO expresses deep concerns to PM Modi (May 25, 2020), https://www.financialexpress.com/industry/labour-law-suspension-uphold-indias-international-commitments-ilo-expresses-deep-concerns-to-pm/1970194/ (last visited July 3, 2020, 07:52 PM).

[5] Jawhar Sircar, A Long Look at Exactly why and how India failed its migrant workers, (29th May 2020), https://thewire.in/labour/lockdown-migrant-workers-policy-analysis (July 2nd 2020, 08:58 PM)

[6] Alakh Alok Srivastava v. Union of India, Writ Petition No. 468/2020; Harsh Mander &Anr. v. Union of India, Writ Petition No. 10801/2020.

[7] All India Imam Organisation and Ors. v. Union of India And Ors., AIR 1993 SC 2086.

[8] Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation, AIR 1986 SC 180.

[9] Bijoy Cotton Mills Ltd v. The State of Ajmer, AIR 1955 SC 33.

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