Once again, migrant workers are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown measures across the country. The second wave of Covid19 has gravely impacted thousands of migrant workers who were already recovering from the devastating effects of the 2020 lockdown in India.
State governments imposed lockdowns and curfews to curtail the spread of the virus and businesses were shut down, as a result, tens of thousands of migrant workers were left out of jobs. Prolonging restrictions on economic activities across states forced informal sector workers to move back to their hometowns with no source of income. After Delhi imposed its curfew measures on April 19, more than 80,000 migrant workers reportedly returned to their hometowns.
Notably, the regional lockdowns imposed in April-May have resulted in massive unemployment across various sectors. According to the think tank Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), more than 97% of India’s population became poorer in terms of income amid the pandemic. The ongoing localised lockdowns have hit India’s migrant workers harder compared to 2020’s nationwide shutdown as months of unemployment have led to limited or no savings.
As per CMIE data, about 122 million people lost their jobs and were unemployed during last year’s lockdown. 75 percent of these people were daily wage laborers. As of May 16, India’s weekly employment rate was at a 49-week high at 14.45 percent.
“After the lockdown last year, many of these workers could not get back their jobs as the contractors who hired them did not want to take the responsibility of paying them lockdown wages,” All-India Trade Union Congress general secretary Amarjeet Kaur said.
Several labor unions and activists have called on the Centre to introduce improved economic stimulus and other necessary benefits to keep migrant workers afloat. Taking note of surging inflation, economists and activists have also urged the Modi government to ensure monetary transfers to migrant laborers and informal workers with the aim of supporting them in mitigating the economic impact of the pandemic due to job losses. While a number of measures have been introduced by the Centre to help workers tackle pandemic repercussions, they appear to be inadequate amid the battle against the second Covid19 wave.
Last week, the Supreme Court called on the Centre to accelerate the registration process of migrant workers in order to extend the benefits of various government schemes to them. The top court had expressed dismay with the dismal efforts by the Centre and state government in registering migrant and unorganised workers.