Rights of Migrant Labourers during the Pandemic

This Research Paper is written by Naini Naryan, a Third Year B.A LL.B (Hons.) Student at University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun.


This Article this about the rights of the migrant labours in this pandemic. Due to this epidemic, the Government suddenly announced the complete lockdown in the country so that to stop the threatening virus from spreading to everyone. The problem arose when the sudden announcement came to the public (workers) and they have to immediately leave the existing place and move back to their places. Due to this sudden change any labourers who have been migrated from the rural area, who work on daily wages system etc. faced several serious issues, such as there were lack of transport facilities, there was no shelter for them, no job which means no money. Those who got the transport they went but there was a huge chunk of migrant workers who were stuck and were forced to move without any facility of transport. This pandemic has created an alarming situation in the whole society. Several PIL’s were filled in the supreme court for the rights of migrant workers. Many states came as a saviour which includes Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar in this epidemic. The government also came up with certain policies and schemes for the migrant labourers.


COVID 19 pandemic and the lockout crisis had an immeasurable impact on migrant workers and informal workers, underscoring the lack of compassion of the government and its general lack of care in delivering aid to the poor. The first lockdown came in just hours of notice. It is impossible to believe that the Indian Government is not aware that the unorganized are working in this sector, those who seek outside borders, hundreds of miles away from home. India’s economy is more dependent on these workers, both in intensive and manufacturing, in thousands of small businesses across the country. There is a spatial problem in the lives of the poor, especially in the villages of poverty, in spite of it. The building is often a failure to distance our bodies. Have the freedom she describes. Temporary evacuations, which were put together at a price, are not equipped with better, including pre-production.

The fact is that all transports were suspended, the Interior Ministry aggravated the case when, for example, on 29 March there was an order to stop the lakhs from the house and quarantined them for 14 days. This has led to enormous problems for migrant workers, and the result is the unfair treatment of the economic backbone of this country – the worker-friendly worker. The mantra of mandatory social or physical distancing within indifferent classes to see people on the street as a health risk, the hypocrisy of the alleged ignorance of the existing conditions of the workers/ labourers was in cramped rooms, overcrowded houses and in busy streets which was nothing more than a platitude. The privileged, for fear of contamination, with some room for physical removal and food supply, cannot wish for reality. The virus, it must be borne in mind, is impartial in its spread, the virus and the accusation that the poor are spreading the epidemic. India is a cluster of variables; availability of administrative structures, delivery systems and cultural habits. The nature of poverty varies. Decentralized micro diagnosis and the possibility of independent government action are required. The bureaucracy moving towards a clear decentralized political vision and a mandate could bear fruit.

 The pandemic has accidentally created a socio-economic precondition for regimes willing to overturn the rights of hard-earned workers and vulnerable culture. This relentless attack on democratic and constitutional rights is alarming. This is the beginning of an economic emergency, many of which can be interpreted. The Prime Minister announced India’s national lockdown on 24-3-2020. These strict measures were taken as preventive measures to prevent the large-scale COVID-19 epidemic. Track the flight of immigrants to all countries. These migrant workers were both organised and in unorganised sectors. The majority of migrant workers are daily bets (wages) who have worked on construction sites, rickshaw collectors, domestic workers, etc. They depended on the daily source of income for their daily survival.

COVID-19 crisis is great around the world and doesn’t seem to end anytime soon. The trade unions held national demonstrations to protest against changes to labour law, and Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh organized one on November 20. Seven left-wing parties wrote to the president to intervene. On 14 May, ten trade unions sent a letter from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on labour law. In response, the IOC expressed “deep concern” to Prime Minister Modi and called on him to instruct the central and state administrations to comply with India’s obligations (in the field of labour law).

Conduct towards Migrant Workers in this Epidemic-

Migrant workers who decided to stay behind during the pandemic face attack from their neighbours, who have accused them of being infected with the coronavirus. So they can’t buy food. Many were also victims of police brutality as they were served outside their homes[1]. On their return to their hometown and villages, they were treated with anxiety or prejudice,” they were in some cases sprayed with disinfectants or soap solutions. They were afraid to transport crowns from the urban areas where they worked.  They were confronted with the abuse and intimidation of the inhabitants of their hometown. Since many of them belonged to the lower castes, they had to stand up and make derogatory remarks[2]. Thousands of people have turned into a property dispute. Several migrant workers (labourers) have /felt expressed fears of a return to their old jobs in cities after unemployment. Since mid-April, companies have reported a labour shortage. Approximately it will take around six months.

Legal Measures were taken in this Crisis

It is therefore imperative that the migration crisis is resolved as soon as possible. The same cannot happen without the restoration of existing labour laws. However, Indian labour law seems inadequate in these times of crisis, especially compared to migrant workers. Migrant workers belong to both the unorganised and organised sector. Most workers/labourers work in the construction industry. The other labour legislation also applies to migrant workers in the organised sector, which are not covered here, for example, by the Minimum Wage Act. In view of the fact that unemployment will continue to soar after the end of the blockade, the PIL has also called for the number of working days guaranteed by the increase from 100 to 200 in order to support rural livelihoods during the looming economic crisis. PIL was filled at the beginning of April and requested in particular that MGNREGA employees with active work cards receive full wages or offer work that meets the standards of “social distancing”. Although the Ministry of Rural Development had issued guidelines allowing the MGNREGA work, they were at odds with the task of staying at home and/or keeping distance, and the work was not possible almost a month after the closure. The government has several provisions for the extension of MGNREGA work for another 50 days in situations of any calamity or pandemic. The extension of the Employment Guarantee Act must, therefore, be effective and open-ended. The ‘100 days per family’ scheme must expand to allow access to any adult seeking any number of days of work during the period of recovery from the COVID crisis.

Supreme Court Hearings

Date of Hearing

Issues (Petitions)

30th March

India’s Supreme Court approved a request for migrant workers on March 30[3]. The Government’s internal auditors have asked the Court of Auditors to report on the situation of migrants.  In its report, the central government, which said its migrant operations involved employees in their lives, was moved by the panic that caused the closure to close in the past three months. The court added that it was immediately satisfied with the response to the government’s claims.

21st April

A plea was filled in the court requesting for the minimum payment of wages[4]. The court, therefore, has rejected the plea on grounds that the free mean to them (worker) has already been supplied.

16th May

On May 20, the Supreme Court rejected a PIL that would require district judges to identify and transport migrant workers and transfer them for free, saying it was the responsibility of state governments. As for the workers killed in their sleep on the railway tracks in Aurangabad, the court ruled that they could not have been avoided. In addition, the central government has said that intergovernmental transport has already been made available to migrants and urged them to wait until it is their turn instead of choosing a trip[5].

26th May

On May 26, the Supreme Court ruled that the migration crisis had not been resolved and that the government had been “weak and omission”, so he ordered the office to provide food, shelter, and travel to migrant workers[6].

During this epidemic, some states came out as a saviour like Bihar along with other states of India made up a large part of this migrant workforce. About 1.8 to 2.8 migrants will travel to Bihar during the lockdown. Bihar has the highest number of migrant workers per capita. Current labour legislation does not provide the necessary assistance to migrant workers. Moreover, these laws have not dealt at all with the issue of immigrants, as there is a shortage of intermediaries to transmit the lack of information and communication. Legislation for these workers is already limited in terms of quantity and quality.

India was a committed and founding member of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and was therefore intended to implement social security legislation. In the year 1990s, The International Convention for the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families was established for the benefit of migrant workers throughout the world. In addition to the international mandate, the Directive on the Principles of State Policy also obliges the State to guarantee citizens, men and women the right to a decent livelihood, equal pay for equal work for men and women, protection against abuse and exploitation of workers, economic necessity. Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat are temporarily trying to reform their labour laws in early May to attract industry and investment. The trade unions criticised this at the expense of migrant workers and gave employers more power.

Some of the Relief Measures which had taken

Soon after the central government’s directive at the end of March, the governments stood up thousands of camps to house the migrant labourers[7]. The Delhi government has been offering free food for 4 people every day since the end of March. More than 500 hunger relief centres have been set up by the Delhi government. By April 5, 75 lakh were supplied with food in food warehouses operated by the government and NGOs across the country. On 12 April, 37,978 relief camps and 26,225 food warehouses were set up[8].

To meet the needs of migrants and prevent them from leaving the camps, the Kerala government changed what was delivered by putting northern India dishes on the menu, charging equipment for phones, and providing other medical items such as masks, disinfectants, and medications. As of 1 May, 91 migrants had travelled to their countries of origin to reach state-owned transport. However, according to the Failed Workers Action Network (SWAN), migrants were confused about the exact procedures for recording the trip. Also, many state registration portals were either in English language or in the national language of the states where they lived, which few immigrants could understand and the rest didn’t. In addition, the government’s general lack of information on migrants has led them to pay large sums for registration. By the end of March, the government of Uttar Pradesh decided to organize a bus at the Anand Vihar bus station to bring their free villages. Large crowds gathered at the bus station[9].  And, in the closed, many remained trapped until the final week of April, when the central government allowed him to run for buses, but not trains. On May 23, 40 Lakh migrants were travelled in their home on the bus. The state bus is always poor; so far, the distance cannot come from overcrowding and higher rates than promised. The government then announced that the railways would offer an 85% subsidy on fares, with state governments funding the remaining 15%.  In some cases, however, migrants have not yet paid an unknown amount. The central government initially refused to share the details with the Supreme Court, but later confirmed that it did not pay anyone the interest rate. Also according to the guidelines of Central Government, the countries should pay for travel related to the migrants has crested disagreement between Maharashtra and other states.

Migrants experienced many problems while travelling on these trains. Many said they had no food and water arranged for them while they were travelling. A train from Goa to Manipur reported a 58-hour delay, no adequate food or sanitation on the train, and stoning. Those who were given food and water refused to deliver at the entrance and forced the workers to fight.

Some migrants also died during train journeys, but the railways reported that most of them had existing illnesses.

Government Policies/Schemes in this Pandemic

The governments of several states in the country such as State of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat tried to temporarily revise their labour laws in early May with the aim of attracting industries and investment. The unions criticized this as harmful to migrant workers while giving more authority to employers. Ten of them then wrote a letter to the ILO on 14 May about the same thing, to which the ILO replied by reassuring them that it had contacted Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Many reported the number of good times of the migrants who returned home to be locked up and released. The nation had opened thousands of quarantine centers for the building, while others had forced the institutional quarantine. The Indian government launched Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiya for the initiative to address the impact of COVID-19 migrant workers in India. It is a public construction project for rural areas, which began on June 20, 2020, with the first funding of US$50,000 ($7.0 billion) and 116 regions in 6 states.


Measures Taken

27th March

On March 30, the Interior Ministry ordered the migrants not to move under the lockdown when the National Relief Fund (NDRF) was allowed to provide food and shelter to the migrants on 28 March.

29th March

On March 30, the government offered that the rent would not be demanded by landlords and rather employers will pay the wages without any kind of deductions. Also, those who violated the lockdown will be sent to the government’s quarantine station for the 14-year-old, which has called for countries to set up migrant shelters to return to their country of origin.

16th May

On May 15, the government announced the National Immigrant Information System (NMIS), an electronic document from the National Weather Service Authority (NDMA). The aim is to rationalise the free movement of migrant workers. This will help to determine the number of migrant workers. The government plans to keep employees who have their phone numbers in order.

14th July

The State Government has to prepare a database (official record) on request of the Ministry of Human Resource Development of children from rural areas who have migrated.


According to the World Economic Forum, an estimated 139 million immigrants live in the country.  The International Labour Organisation (ILO) predicted that, as a result of the pandemic and exclusion, poverty would affect some 400 million workers. Most of the country’s immigrants come from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, followed by Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Migrant workers are the first to work in manufacturing and construction. The cities of Mumbai and Delhi attract the most immigrants.

Thus the above discussion means that the Supreme Court must find an exceptional remedy for this exceptional period, so that the well-being of millions of these workers can be balanced.

[1]  Raj, Dev (8 April 2020). “Migrants pay price of staying back in Delhi”The Telegraph (India).

[2]  Kumar, Chandan; Mohanty, Debabrata (10 May 2020). “Migrant workers battle stigma, bias back home”. Hindustan Times.

[3] Vaidyanathan, a (29 March 2020). “Supreme Court to Hear Petition on Migrants amid Lockdown Today”. NDTV.

[4] “Judiciary failed to protect citizens’ rights amid Covid-19 pandemic: Dushyant Dave”. Hindustan Times. 23 May 2020.

[5]  G, Ananthakrishnan (16 May 2020). “‘Can’t stop or monitor their movement on roads’: SC rejects plea seeking relief for migrants”. The Indian Express.

[6]  Rajagopal, Krishnadas (26 May 2020). “Supreme Court orders Centre and States to immediately provide transport, food and shelter free of cost to stranded migrant workers”The HinduISSN 0971-751X.

[7] “Coronavirus | Delhi govt to feed 4 lakh people from tomorrow; ready for even 1,000 cases a day, says Kejriwal”. The Hindu. 27 March 2020. ISSN 0971-751X.

[8] “COVID-19 situation: Nearly 38,000 relief camps set up for migrant labourers, Govt to SC”. The Indian Express. 27 April 2020.

[9] Jha, Somesh (29 March 2020). “Fighting Covid-19: After the long walk, jobless migrants head home by bus”. Business Standard India.