Govt leans on unions to make workers stay back in cities as economy sinks

A migrant wearing a protective mask boards a train to Jharkhand, during the nationwide lockdown, in Jalandhar. Photo: PTI
The Union government on Wednesday held a meeting with the central labour unions and told them to persuade the migrant workers to participate in economic activities, instead of leaving for their homes.

In the meeting, chaired by labour and employment minister Santosh Kumar Gangwar, the trade unions, however, told officials that workers who want to return home should be facilitated and should be incentivised by giving them cash or by giving them good facilities to live.

“The Labour Secretary (Heera Lal Samariya) stated that the focus should now be on reviving industry and gradually opening up the economy, so that there are adequate employment opportunities. He requested the representatives of the central trade union organisations to instill confidence among workers to resume work wherever possible,” an official statement issued by the labour and employment ministry stated.

Gangwar told the trade union leaders “repeatedly” that the migrant workers are not being charged for boarding the Shramik special trains and assured them that if any worker had to pay, the government will “reimburse the cost,” Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) national president Saji Narayanan said.

The unions also raised concerns over the Karnataka government’s decision on Tuesday to cancel planned train services for the migrant workers who wanted to go home, after its meeting with the real estate industry.

“The labour secretary told the trade unions to convince the workers to stay in cities for work as economic activities have to begin. We raised so many issues related to the workers and asked them to facilitate their travel back home but it was shocking that the ministry, instead of responding to the issues, told us to stop workers from going home,” All India Trade Union Congress general secretary Amarjeet Kaur said.

She added that the workers were anxious to meet their families at a time when the spread of the novel coronavirus is increasing across the country and it should be their choice whether they want to work or go back home.

“The labour secretary stated that the mortality rate due to COVID-19 in India was much lower compared to the developed countries. He said that it is in the welfare of the workers that they resume work. It was shocking to see the insensitive approach,” All India Central Council of Trade Unions general secretary Rajiv Dimri said.

BMS general secretary Virjesh Upadhyay, who also attended the meeting, said that the state governments such as Haryana have started dialogue with both industry and trade unions in past few days in a bid to stop workers from leaving the cities.

The BMS said in a statement that “compulsory methods should not be adopted to dissuade migrant workers going to their homes to join their families.” “They should be provided incentives to come back to host states like cash incentives, electronic passes, free train tickets, etc,” the RSS-affiliated trade union said.

According to the labour ministry’s official statement, the government should provide more trains to transport the stranded migrant workers, along with creation of a national register for them to enable to get employment opportunities.

The government has started Shramik special train services for migrant workers who want to return home from their place of work in cities since May 1. The Indian Railways had run 122 trains till 6 pm of Wednesday and according to its guidelines had asked the states to give workers tickets after collecting fares from them.

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