Now in the midst of unending march of millions of migrant workers trying to return to their home states braving the heat, dust and Coronavirus Pandemic after being thrown out of their work in distant cities they went to toil for survival, there is at last some good news from Jharkhand.
On June 13 the Chief Minister Jharkhand Hemant Soren flagged off a special train at Dumka Rly station carrying the first group of over a thousand out of the total of 3500 workers of Jharkhand – mostly from Dumka, Deoghar and Pakur Districts and other areas who will be working with the Border Roads Organization for construction of strategic roads in Ladakh. These Road projects are in the news these days such as as Zozila, Rohtang pass and the road to Daulat Begoldi . At least three more special trains will soon leave Jharkhand carrying the rest of the labour corps to Ladakh to help nation build its defense infrastructure. Its significance which one feels is historic for the following reasons:
It is for the first time since the present migrant crisis that the government of a labour exporting state took the implementation of the Interstate Migrant Workmen (Regulation and Employment) Act 1979 seriously, raised the issues of workers wages and working conditions with the Border Roads Organization. The consultation resulted in the signing of a Terms of Reference between the Labour Department Government of Jharkhand and the Border Roads Organization laying down the conditions of the workers which include payment of wages directly by the BRO to Bank Account/ ATM of the workers. Earlier the workers were engaged either through the contractors or through ” mates” meaning other workers, usually older who acted as the middle men receiving wages for the workers which they disbursed after deducting what might be called ” cut money” .
This could be as high as one third as on an average a BRO construction worker reportedly received Rs 10600 per month from the”mates” as against the usual wages of Rs 16000 plus. The arrangement has been highly exploitative , illegal and a corrupt practice. As per the TOR mentioned above which will be the basis of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Defense and the BRO to be executed soon, every migrant worker will be registered under the aforementioned Act and provisioning of their accommodation, health and work safety will be made and implemented apart from direct payment of wages.
The Migrant Workmen Act was enacted way back in 1979 with the good intentions to help the migrant workers to get their due but it is apparent that the law was not implemented because of lack of political will which is again is due to apathy to the plight of the poor migrant workers. At a time when several states have promulgated ordinances to keep labour laws in abeyance which are sure to make life difficult even for workers in organised sector because of the powers given to the employers to hire and fire and raise working hours at will, this initiative of the Government of Jharkhand comes as a whiff of fresh air and sunshine and is worthy of emulation by all states and especially Bihar,UP, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and other states from which people move out in search of work and livelihood.