The coronavirus outbreak has caused major disruptions in life as we know it. Lockdowns imposed across the world have impacted people in more ways than one. Apart from the obvious health crisis, there have been financial impacts, rising unemployment, job losses and unprecedented economical slowdowns. In India's case, these factors have led to a mass migration of labourers from metropolitan cities to their hometowns. From teenage girl cycling over 1,000 km with her father riding pillion, to hundreds of migrant labourers walking for several days and weeks to reach their villages, the poorest in our society have faced the most during the crisis. The Indian government also opened its granaries for farmers and people who were in need. Money was transferred to people in villages through the Direct Benefit Transfer scheme. Several other government and non-government organisations also pitched in and supplied food to all those in need.
IndiaTVnews.com reached out to the International Labour Organisation to ask what they had to say about this ongoing migrant crisis in India. ILO's Director, Decent Work Team for South Asia, Dagmar Walter, shared some of her insights in the matter with us and suggested actions that can be taken to ease out the pain.
"Coronavirus pandemic is not just a medical crisis, but a social and economic one too. Enterprises of all sizes have already stopped operations, cut working hours and laid off staff. Many are teetering on the brink of collapse as small production units, service providers, shops and restaurants are struggling to sustain. In such a situation, often the first to lose their jobs are those whose employment was already precarious – such as contracts and casual workers, migrants and those in unorganized sector workers," Walter said.
"Social distancing, hand washing and maintaining hygiene is the primary responsibility of all of us right now. The mass communication and social media channels have been helpful. However, the migrants on the street shows those vulnerable communities have not been able to interpret the risk of their movement to their immediate family members and for the masses. Information that is more accurate needs to reach out to them on prevention, through the sources they trust and in their languages. Community and social leaders, contractors, local government officials, employers and worker unions – all have a role to play in it," she added.
Dagmar further said that while the governments at both the State and the Central level have taken initiatives to support these people, further enhancement of accessibility and awareness of available services is required among the most vulnerable group.
"Both Central and State Governments have taken initiatives to offer income support in the form of cash benefits, advance pensions, social protection support through the provision of food rations, wage protection, shelter and food for vulnerable populations, and access to health services. Further, enhanced accessibility and awareness on the available services could reduce the stress among vulnerable groups," she said.
She further went on to add, "This situation also demands effective social dialogue mechanisms, among the ILO constituents, - government, employers and workers. For any responses to be effective, they have to be built on trust among the constituents and trust requires consultation and collaboration. The second important dimensions is the International Labour Standards – ILS which assumes greater significance in the current situation and provides a strong foundation in preparing policy responses needed for sustained and equitable recovery."
ILO has advised the need for countrywide coordinated and coherent measures to respond to COVID-19 pandemic across three pillars:
- Protecting and supporting jobs and incomes for workers - especially informal workers, vulnerable groups such as women, aged, disabled workers and others;
- Protecting workers at workplace and frontline workers in healthcare, essential services and outreach workers
- Protecting businesses, especially small and micro-enterprises.
"ILS encapsulate the idea of a human-centred approach to economics and development, and balance the needs of stimulating demand, supporting businesses and protecting workers. For example, Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience, Employment Policy Convention C.122, the Protection of Wages Convention (C.95) states that if an employer goes out of business-employed workers shall be treated as privileged creditors for unpaid wages," she signed off with.