Migrant workers and their Social protection in India – Explained, pointwise

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The migrant crisis during the pandemic highlighted the vulnerabilities faced by migrants. Recently, the Supreme Court issued an important judgment towards the welfare of migrants. The judgment mandated a portal for the registration of all informal/migrant workers. But to provide welfare to migrants, there is a need for a clear policy framework and greater commitment from the government.

About the Migrants’ situation during the pandemic

The migrants’ crisis during the first and second waves affected millions of migrants.

  • The Azim Premji University’s State of Working India Report 2021 presents a survey of surveys along with the findings of its own studies. Apart from job losses, it reports deterioration in the quality of work, indebtedness as a coping strategy, and lower incomes compared to pre-lockdown levels, pushing hundreds of millions of households into poverty.
  • While circular migrants were the hardest hit, the effects were disproportionately large for the poorest households, and women and young workers.
  • Other than the PDS, the social protection net provided protection to few households, and the benefit of the extended schemes also remained restricted, particularly for migrant workers.
Recent Supreme Court ruling on the Migrant workers

The Supreme Court finally delivered its judgment on the plight of migrant labour on June 29. The judgment was limited in scope, confined to the framework of existing social security schemes, but it was notable for two main reasons.

  1.  The judgment recognised that there was the large-scale exclusion of migrant workers and other informal workers from existing schemes due to the lack of their registration and outdated eligibility lists.
    • It noted that no benefits will be denied to migrant workers for want of an Aadhaar card, and that food assistance will be provided for migrants who were not covered by the National Food Security Act.
  2. The judgment connected informal workers and migrant workers, both of whom experience exclusion, and mandated that the portal for registration of all informal/migrant workers should be fully operational before July 31.
Migrant workers and NCEUS recommendation

Nearly a decade and a half ago, the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) had pointed out that the circular migrant workers were a disadvantaged segment among informal workers. At present, these migrant workers comprise nearly 60 percent of occupationally vulnerable workers outside agriculture.

Recommendation of NCEUS:

  • The NCEUS had advocated a comprehensive law for the protection of the rights of all informal workers, including migrants, home workers, and domestic workers.
  • It had also recommended a universal registration mechanism based on self-declaration, with the issuance of a smart social security card, and a National Minimum Social Security Package available to all informal workers through the law, within a definite time frame.
Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008

In drafting the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, which was approved by Parliament in December 2008, and took out the mandatory elements of the NCEUS’s proposals. Such as National Minimum Social Security Package and Mandatory registration. Instead, the Act includes provisions like,

  • The Act provides for the constitution of the National Social Security Board at the Central level.
  • The board will recommend the formulation of social security schemes viz life and disability cover, health and maternity benefits, old age protection and any other benefit as may be determined by the Government for unorganised workers.
  • As a follow-up to the implementation of the Act, the National Social Security Board was set up on 18 August 2009.

But the recent Supreme Court judgment may well now push the government towards mandatory registration.

Read more: Supreme Court’s Directions for Welfare of Migrant Workers
Social protection floor (SPF) for migrant workers

Investment in social protection is not charity, instead, it is an investment in workers’ productivity and equitable growth.

  • Even the United Nations mooted a social protection floor (SPF) initiative after the global financial crisis.
    • The social protection floor (SPF) is the first level of social protection in a national social protection system. It is a basic set of social rights derived from human rights treaties, including access to essential services (such as health, education, water and sanitation, etc) and social transfers, in cash or in-kind, to guarantee income security, food security, adequate nutrition security. 
  • The report of the Advisory Committee of the ILO, in which India was also represented provides a strong rationale for instituting a universal SPF during economic crises.
  • As a result, all constituents of the ILO adopted Recommendation 202 on social protection floors at the International Labour Conference in 2012.
India and Social protection floor (SPF)

Unfortunately, in the years before this crisis, the government reversed the trend towards increasing public expenditure on social protection. Estimates show that the central government’s expenditure on all major social protection programmes declined from 1.96 percent of GDP in 2008-09 to 1.6 percent in 2013-14 and to only 1.28 percent in 2019-20.

Further, India does not have an identifiable employer and a contributory social insurance framework.

Read More: Migrants Workers, Who Returned to Cities Earned five-fold : Study
Suggestions to improve the situation of Migrant workers
  • Policy-makers must provide a minimum level of guaranteed social security/social protection for all informal workers and their households within a definite time frame.
  • The government has to take steps to achieve a universal SPF in India. To achieve that, the government has to spend more on social protection and embrace ILO’s Recommendation 202.
  • To end the silent, painful, and enduring crisis for the workers, as well as the crisis for the economy, the government must urgently recognise the right to social security, embedded both in the Indian Constitution and international covenants, and work towards these in a time-bound manner.

Source: The Indian Express

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