Human rights activists protest Kerala government’s new registration system for migrant workers
By Team FI
Kerala, with its widely unionised work sector, believed to be one of the best states for workers in India, has been pulled up by the human rights activists for its treatment of migrant labourers.
A recent decision taken by the state government for migrant workers to be registered with the police on their arrival in the state, has come under severe criticisim by some rights activists. They allege that the government decision to police migrant workers is only a means to tarnish the workers’ image and push them further into the margins of the society so that the State and the vested interests can continue extracting their labour without providing any social security.
Since the last 10 years, Kerala has become a favoured destination for workers from Assam, West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh etc. The Labour Department estimates that there are about 20 lakh to 30 lakh migrant workers in Kerala and they include skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled workers.
The unskilled labourers, brought in by inter-state contractors, are mostly employed at construction sites, quarries, hotels and factories and earn 30-50% lesser than the native workers. Many are employed as domestic helps. Migrant workers are preferred by employers since their wages are lower compared to local workers.
Activists say most of the migrant labourers are expected to do the hazardous and arduous labour. They live in labour camps and ghettoized neighborhoods away from mainstream Malayali life. A petition submitted to the State Home Minister by concerned citizens and activists has also noted that prior to this, police authorities in the state had attempted similar forms of registration and profiling with varying degrees of success.
In 2009, in Perumbavoor, one of the largest migrant settlements in the state, the local police insisted that migrant workers must bring a police clearance card from their villages of origin certifying the absence of a criminal record. Many workers had to leave Perumbavoor and stop working as obtaining such a card was expensive and nearly impossible.
However, activists like T.K Anandi are not against the registration per se. Anandi, who has also studied the issue of migrant workers in the state, believes that the government’s intention to give identity cards to migrant workers and the requirement of their registration can be used to ensure fair wages and good working conditions.
“One should realise that migrant workers are paid daily wages far lower than what is paid to a Keralite. Within this, the worker has to not only manage his/her life here but also send money back home. The ID cards should be used in lieu of ration cards so that they can access the PDS system in Kerala – where rice is available at Rs 2 per kg to the BPL ration card holders.”
“During my study of migrant workers in Kerala, an employer, addressing migrant workers as animals, responded that, “They work from 7 am to 7 pm. Around 11 am, if we buy a Pan Paraag (a tobacco product) and give it them they will work till night. That is enough for them.” For such conditions to exist in a state like Kerala where the value of a labourer and his labour power has been epitomized and encouraged is shameful.” says Anandi.
The state government and the police has not given any evidence as to why registration is being made compulsory except to that of the Home Minister’s claim to the media that registration would enable the police to identify whether the workers have any links with terrorist groups.
Sign Petition here
Featured photo by Ramlath Kavil