Labourers who are also called Vishwakarma are the ones on whose hood the world hinges. Being the citizen of India, these labourers are guaranteed dignity, fraternity, justice, equity and equality by the Preamble and Article 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution. Our country also celebrates International Labour day on every 1st of May to acknowledge these labourers and working class.
This year it came at such a time when they needed acknowledgment and protection more than ever. Due to globalisation, there was a huge demand of cheap labourers in India so a large number of labourers were seen migrating to different cities. As per Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India when a person is enumerated in census at a different place that his/her place of birth, he/she is considered a migrant.
These migrants had contributed a good deal of blood and sweat for the economic growth of our country. But now when they need the reward of their hardwork, the businessmen are refusing to pay them their basic wages. Various news channels have been depicting their pitiable condition. Some are shown walking miles after losing their jobs. Some are shown committing suicide beacuse they are running out of cash and food. The reason why they are so desperate to go back home is because of the employers who have stopped paying them wages. No wonder they have started hating the cities and factories because of the way they have been treated by their employers. The ones who make ten storeyed building have become homeless.
The Home Ministry made it legally compulsory for salaries and wages to be paid even during the lockdown period. Yet, many of our capitalist didn’t even pay wages for the month of March, not even for the days the labourers had worked. News reports tell that these migrants have no money to recharge their phone and talk to their family members, so how can we expect them to buy expensive train tickets?
The facility of Shramik train was started on 1st May, 2020, whereas the Centre declared lockdown on 24th March, 2020. There could have been some better solution for the free travel of these poor migrants when the lockdown was declared. It took more than one month for the government to start this facility. It is shocking to hear that the Ministry of Railways donated Rs. 151 crores in ‘PM Cares Fund’, rather this money could have been utilized to ensure free travel of these poor migrant workers. One cannot blame the Central Goverrnment entirely, the State Government of UP, MP and Assam issued ordinances exempting all establishments, factories and businesses from the purview of most labour laws for the period of three years. Labour law in India is rigid and restricts changes. The provisions of labour laws are not clearly expressed which in return gives wide discretionary power to the executive. The judiciary who is the last bulwark of democracy and protector of fundamental rights of all citizens has also refused to interfere.
This humiliation and inhuman treatment is not going to make workers want to take those trains again for a few months. They are going to make our petty-minded capitalists beg for their sweat and blood for few months. But eventually this anger will recede and the migrant workers will go back because they have to feed themselves and their families.
This article is authored by Ankita Kedia, final year student of LL.B at Faculty of Law, University of Delhi.