Interstate Migrant Workmen Act, 1979

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Context: The Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted to regulate the condition of service of inter-state labourers in Indian labour law. The Act's purpose is to protect workers whose services are requisitioned outside their native states in India. Whenever an employer faces a shortage of skills among the locally available workers, the act creates provision to employ better-skilled workers available outside the state.

Relevance:
Prelims: Current events of national and international importance.
Mains: GS II and I- 

  • Indian Constitution- historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions, and basic structure.
  • Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India. Role of women and women's organization, population and associated issues, poverty and developmental issues, urbanization, their problems, and their remedies. Effects of globalization on Indian society Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism & secularism.
Background
  • The employment system of interstate migrant labour was an exploitative system prevalent more or less in all over India. It was rampantly institutionalized in Orissa and in some other states.
  • In Orissa, the migrant labour (called dadan labour locally) through contractors or agents (called Sardars / Khatedars) are sent for work outside the state in large construction projects.
  • This system lends itself to various abuses. Sardar promising at the time of recruitment that wages would be calculated on a piece-rate basis would not be settled every month as promised.
  • Once the worker came under clutches of the contractor he took him to a far off place on payment of railways fare only.
  • No working hours were fixed for interstate migrant workers and they had to work on all the days in a week under extremely bad working conditions.
  • Twenty-eighth State Labour Ministers conference held on 21-10-1976 recommended for setting up of a small compact committee to examine all issues and suggest measures for eliminating the abuses prevalent in the interstate worker's deployment.
  • The compact committee which was constituted in February 1977, recommended the enactment of separate central legislation to regulate the employment of interstate migrant workers.

Provisions of Interstate Migrant Workmen Act 1979

Rights of interstate workers

  • In addition to the general labour laws applicable to all workers, the interstate workers are entitled to equal or better wages for the similar nature & duration of work applicable for the local workmen or stipulated minimum wages under the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 whichever is more, displacement allowance (Section 14), home journey allowance (Section 15) including payment of wages during the period of journey, suitable residential accommodation and medical facilities free of charge on mandatory basis.
  • Termination of employment after the contract period without any liability.
  • Right to lodge compliant with the authorities within three months of any incident, accident, etc.

Role of contractors

  • Registration of all contractors who employ or employed five or more Interstate Migrant Workmen on any day of the preceding 12 months.
  • Furnish the details of workmen periodically in such forms as prescribed by the state government.
  • Maintain the registers indicating the details of interstate workers and make available for scrutiny by the statutory authorities.
  • Issue of passbook affixed with a passport-sized photograph of the workman indicating the name and the place of the establishment where the worker is employed, the period of employment, rates of wages, etc. to every inter-state migrant workman.
  • Reporting by the contractor the incidence of a fatal accident or serious injury of such workman to the specified authorities of both the States and also the next of kin of the workman.
  • Liability for the prescribed punishments for violations committed under this Act.

Role of principal employers

  • Registration of all principal employers who employ or employed directly or indirectly five or more Interstate Migrant Workmen on any day of the preceding 12 months.
  • Maintain the registers indicating the details of interstate workers and make available for scrutiny by the statutory authorities.
  • Every principal employer shall nominate a representative duly authorized by him to be present at the time of disbursement of wages by the contractor and it shall be the duty of such representative to certify the amounts paid as wages in such manner and may be prescribed.
  • The principal employer shall be liable to bear the wages and other benefits to interstate workers in case of failure by the contractor to effect the same.
  • Liability for the prescribed punishments for violations committed under this Act.

Role of state governments

  • Appointment of inspectors to oversee the implementation of this act.
  • Appointment of registration officers to grant and revoke the registration of contractors / principal employers/establishments.
  • Appointment of licensing officers to grant, suspend, and revoke licenses to contractors / principal employers/establishments.
  • Making rules for carrying out the purposes of this Act subject to the condition of previous publication
  • Entertaining appeals from the aggrieved parties and disposal of the same as per this Act
Applicability of the law
  • It is applicable to every establishment that employs five or more migrant workmen from other States; or if it had employed five or more such workmen on any day in the preceding 12 months.
  • It is also applicable to contractors who employed a similar number of inter-State workmen.
  • The Act would apply regardless of whether the five or more workmen were in addition to others employed in the establishment or by the contractors.
What are the beneficial provisions for inter-State migrants in it?
  • The provision for registration of establishments employing inter-State workers creates a system of accountability and acts as the first layer of formalizing the utilization of their labour.
  • It helps the government keep track of the number of workers employed and provides a legal basis for regulating their conditions of service.
  • As part of the licensing process, contractors are bound by certain conditions.
  • These include committing them to provide terms and conditions of the agreement or any other arrangement on the basis of which they recruit workers.
  • In no case, shall the wages be lower than what is prescribed under the Minimum Wages Act.
Beneficial provisions for inter-State migrants
  • Registration of establishments employing inter-State workers creates a system of accountability and acts as the first layer of formalising the utilization of their labour.
  • It helps the government keep track of the number of workers employed and provides a legal basis for regulating their conditions of service.
  • The wage rates, holidays, hours of work and other conditions of service of an inter-State migrant workman shall be the same as those extended to other workmen in the same establishment if the nature of their work is similar.
Proposed amendment
  • The Interstate Migrant Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Amendment Bill, 2011 is proposed to make this Act gender-neutral by amending its title and replacing the word ‘workman and workmen’ by the words ‘worker and workers’ respectively.
  • However, the lawmakers have not thought of bringing additional provisions to implement this Act strictly with more accountability and punishments for violations.
Concerns and criticisms surrounding the new code
  • Activists fear that specific safeguards given to migrant workers may be lost as a result of the consolidation in the new code.
  • The attempt to consolidate laws relating to occupational safety, health, and working conditions means that many separate laws concerning various kinds of workers and labourers will have to be repealed.
  • Regarding inter-State migrant workers, the Act includes them in the definition of ‘contract labour’.
  • At the same time, an inter-State migrant worker is also separately defined as a person recruited either by an employer or a contractor for an establishment situated in another State.
The need of the hour
  • In the immediate aftermath of the lockdown, state governments were taken unawares by inter-state migrants who were desperate to return home.
  • Many had lost jobs, would not be able to afford rent, and were afraid of falling seriously ill away from their families. The full and proper implementation of this law would have meant that state governments had complete details of inter-state migrant workmen coming through contractors within their states.
  • While this would still leave out migrants who move across states on their own, a large segment would be automatically registered due to the requirements of the Act.
  • States would consequently have been better prepared to take steps to protect such workmen during this lockdown. However, almost no state seems to have implemented this law in letter and spirit.
  • Even though the Code seeks to preserve many of the protections and rights are given to inter-State workers, trade unions feel that it is always better to have a separate enactment.
  • The unprecedented distress and misery faced by migrant workers due to the current lockdown have drawn attention to beneficial legislation dedicated to their welfare.
Possible improvements
  • All interstate workers should be registered in gram panchayat or municipality or corporation compulsory.
  • All interstate workers shall be provided with the benefits of the Public Distribution System (PDS) Cards to avoid buying food grains and kerosene at higher prices. Adhar identity card shall be made compulsory for interstate workers.
  • The remuneration to interstate workers shall be deposited in their bank accounts and not by cash by the contractors
  • Every state government shall mandatorily operate an internet portal indicating the registered principal employers, contractors, establishments, and interstate workmen details including Adhar card data for general public information and verification.
  • The details of interstate workmen shall be uploaded by the principal employers and contractors promptly. Non-compliance by the principal employers or contractors is treated as a violation of the Act and liable for punishment.
  • No contractor shall deploy the workers outside the state without getting registered in that state. All the details of the interstate worker's deployment outside the state shall be made available to the state authorities promptly.
  • The state government authorities shall conduct a mandatory yearly audit of all employers/contractors in a state regarding the deployment of interstate workers and submit yearly compliance status or implementation report to the state assembly for their scrutiny.
  • The ongoing finance commission shall give weightage in the devolution of central government funds to the states which are giving more employment to interstate workers as they are ahead in the demographic transition.
  • The demographic transition of a state is a real index & status of all-round human and economical development.



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