Migrant Labour Crisis In India During COVID-19 Pandemic

Migrant Labour Crisis In India During COVID-19 Pandemic


This Blog is written by Sahina Mallick. Edited by Uroosa Naireen.

| Winner of 1st Online National Blog Writing Competition |



Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Governments across the world have accepted ‘Lockdown’ measures to curtail the spread of this deadly virus. After various deliberations, meetings, and guidelines rooted by W.H.O., the Governments have voted for breaking the chain of the deadly virus by accepting the procedure of lockdown for different durations respectively. This lockdown has had many bad effects on the migrants, children, or internally displaced people, who have faced unimaginable losses. They faced problems regarding health, food, clothing, clean water, etc. This pandemic barred their vulnerability which is not only incomprehensible for us to understand but also difficult for us to be of any help.

Due to this lockdown, almost all migrant labourers have either lost their jobs or temporarily shut. They work far away from their homes and during the lockdown, they needed to come back to their homes to stay with their family but they were not able to find proper transport ways to return. We all have seen on the television the plight of migrant labourers along with their families walking for miles and miles to reach their destination and this is somewhat very pathetic. The crowded mass of people consisted of such labourers with their families, continuously moving as they were deprived of having enough food, pure water, and sanitation.

Given the pandemic, the main criteria to be looked after is health, hygiene, and social distancing but these people had no idea of how the next day is going to be, cannot care less about the virus. The main objective of every life is survival and however dramatic it may sound; this is the harsh reality!


The year 2020, is totally different from all the other years. Most of the outcomes from this year are totally negative which ruined our economy and locked down the humans. In the month of July, 2020, the works of common life were disrupted up till now. There is no idea for how long will it last. Other crises in the year of 2020 were the cyclone Amphan in West Bengal, Australian bush fires, communal violence in Delhi for the Citizenship Amendment Act etc. Despite, all of this, COVID-19 – the novel coronavirus has made an appearance and has taken the form of the worst pandemic ever recorded. Lots of people are dying every day, Governments are helpless, recession in the economy, the workers are laid off. This pandemic made a very bad impact on the migrant labourers as most of them lost their work and find it difficult to come home back. [1]


A migrant worker or migrant labour may be a one that either migrates within their home country or outside it to pursue work. Migrant workers usually don’t have the intention to remain permanently within the region where they work. The Encyclopaedia of Britannica defines that migrant labourers as are casual and unskilled workers who move about systematically from one region to a different offering their services on a short-lived, usually seasonal basis. [2]

The IOM that is The International Organization for Migration differentiates the economic migrants from the labour migrants. Migrant labours are defined as several subgroups of migrant worker, including contract migrant workers, business travellers, established migrant workers, seasonal migrant workers, highly skilled migrant workers, project- tied workers, immigrating investors, and temporary migrant workers.

Migrant labourers are mainly those who move for the purpose of employment. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) migrant worker is a person who migrates from one place to another place with the view of being employed other than on his own account and includes any person regularly admitted as a migrant for employment. [3]


COVID-19 that is the novel coronavirus is an infectious disease caused by the unseen virus. This virus spreads primarily through the droplets of saliva or from the discharge of nose when a person infected sneezes or coughs; it is a must to maintain a respiratory etiquette. Different research teams from all over the world are going on for clinical trials to find out a potential treatment from this deadly virus.

The deadly virus has resulted in causing economic, social, legal, physical, and psychological implications in the world and has attacked every human being irrespective of their background. In this article, I am going to discuss the crisis and challenges of migrant labourers in this era of COVID-19.


This pandemic and the lockdown has affected the migrant labourers and their families very badly. The migrant and the displaced children are going to be affected disproportionately across the globe. All the problems caused by this public health issue are going to last for a long period of time. According to the special report of the United Nations, four challenges can be noted particularly like poverty, survival and health, learning, and safety.


It is obvious that the Migrant labourers belong to families that are more prone and vulnerable to economic problems and poverty. According to the World Bank, post-COVID 19 crisis around 40 to 60 million families are likely to be forced into extreme poverty. The ILO estimates that global unemployment, workforce displacement will be on the hike. These impacts are going to dilate the already existing economic inequalities in the world and are going to hit the developing countries massively. There are a lot of economic recovery initiatives that are likely to be launched but it is true that migrating or displaced children are not going to be included within that periphery. The problem of statelessness is going to prevent any of the Government to claim them as citizens, therefore, barring them to benefit from the initiatives.


Due to this pandemic, the proper health standards could be maintained by the Migrant labourers. While the main catchword of this lockdown is social distancing, to be honest, the Migrant labourers could not able to maintain this. The condition post-COVID-19 is going to cause calamitous health consequences amongst the labours and their children. They are living outside on inside the tents with much less or no access to water. Due to this lockdown, there is the halting of the essential services provision and the work across borders has come to a standstill. The access to healthcare has gotten limited and thereby more and more labourers and their families are under the threat of suffering from malnutrition, communicable, or non- communicable diseases. The labourers do not possess the financial means to quarantine themselves. There is a possibility of psychological issues like depression, boredom, frustration, or anxiety to be present among their children because of zero connection to psychological assistance.


This pandemic has caused difficulties to more than 1billion students. These children of Migrant labourers have probably already missed most of their school time are at risk of falling a lot behind than the others. Their children undergo difficulties like accessing classroom, language barriers or understand the information which may push them to completely stop their education. When the entire world has taken the opportunity of online classes in their safe homes with electricity and internet services, these children who have limited access to food and water cannot even think about smartphones also. And online classes are a daydream for them. It is very pathetic that the children with the aim to study getting no access to connect with the outer world or fulfil their dreams. Limited access to education will push these children to drop out of the school and returning to school will not be a cakewalk after the COVID 19 crisis ends. [4]


Due to these unavoidable circumstances, almost all the Migrant labourers have lost their works. And the withering away of jobs and income is going to expose them and their children who can barely sustain themselves to an unimaginable threat. Economic downslide can force the children to drop out of school and start working to sustain them. Confinement to small places, reduced income and lockdown collaborate risk the security of them and their families. No privacy and confinement of a large group within a small space also risk the security and safety of them and their children. The increased death toll globally will leave a lot of the children orphaned and with no extended families to be a part of; they will be left alone in this world to provide for themselves. Another big concern that is slowly taking the entirety of the limelight is the stigma, discrimination, and the exercise of xenophobia towards the displaced migrant children. These unending issues throughout this pandemic will cause the hate crimes to rise and the mutual love for one another might subside for the hatred to rise. [4]


There is a national law, the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979, to protect the Migrant labourers in such time of crisis like the present COVID 19 pandemic. [5] Although there is the legal protection for more than 200 migrant workers have died during this lockdown due to accidents on road and railway lines, while they are in their way to return their home. Several state governments like the Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have proposed to register migrant workers, a provision which is already there in the statute and now the Central Government plans to modernise the regulation through a new code.

Many socialist leaders like the Janta Party Government were concerned about the exploitation of Migrant labourers from the poorer states such as Odisha and Bihar. After a recommendation of labour ministers of all states, in 1977, a committee was constituted to propose a law for the protection of the rights of the migrant workers. That committee recommended a law to regulate the employment of inter-state migrant workers as Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act of 1970 was not able to protect their rights. So the Parliament passed the new law in 1980. [6]

In light of the announcement by the Government on launching a scheme under PMJAY for the migrant labour/ urban poor to provide ease of living at an affordable rent, optimal utilisation of these funds should be considered over the medium term. [7]


India’s COVID 19 strategy of containment was derailed when the announcement of the national lockdown resulted in millions of migrant labourers deciding to leave their place of work and travel back to their place of residence. The process of convincing the labourers to stay where they were has met with minimal success. In a country where Migrants are a crucial part of economic activity, the present crisis is more than just a humanitarian crisis.

COVID-19 has created havoc unlike any in the present century. We cannot disregard its impacts that are going to globally but we can provide for the minimum help expected out of us. Yes, indeed, we puny humans might not have a strong fight against the virus but yes it is worth a try. The people who are anyway subjected to statelessness, no proper shelter, food, or clothing cannot be left alone to face the pandemic because of their migrant or refugee status. This is our chance of redeeming our past actions and it the high time that the entire world comes together irrespective of their political and other differences and helps these children fight the pandemic. This pandemic has already taken many lives, we cannot let it take the lives of small children because of our irresponsibility and disregard to help. Now it is our turn to be human and help the needed persons. We cannot proclaim ourselves as saviours but we can act as a medium to help out our fellow friends in achieving the basic necessities in life. We have to be with others and help each other to grow and forgot our differences to heal the world together.


[1] https://wiki2.org/en/Indian_migrant_workers_during_the_COVID-19_pandemic

[2] https://www.britannica.com/topic/migrant-labour

[3] https://www.worldwidejournals.com/indian-an-journal-of-applied-research-IJAR)/special_issues_pdf?April_2016_1461059249__24.pdf

[4] https://www.un.org/sites/un2.un.org/files/policy_brief_on_covid_impact_on_children_16_april_2020.pdf

[5] https://blog.ipleaders.in/laws-related-to-migrant-labourers-in-india/

[6] https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/explainer-migrant-workers-to-get-social-security-in-the-new-avatar-of-1979-law-that-was-not-so-effective/story-PNqSZnxtBCGIBQgjssVtpJ.html

[7] https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/migrant-crisis-supreme-court-india-lockdown-coronavirus-6433681/

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