International Provisions Relating To Rights Of Migrant Workers

International Provisions Relating To Rights Of Migrant Workers

The COVID-19 pandemic is one that has caused damage to countries around the world. Be it the damage to the health of the people or the damage to the economy, the pandemic is one with wide and far-reaching effects. Much like several other prominent issues around the world, like climate change, the impact of this pandemic is not same on everyone. It has disparate impacts on different people, be it due to their age or due to their societal position. 

While migrant workers are of two types – permanent and temporary – this article deals solely with temporary migrant workers. This is due to the fact that they are the ones who are more vulnerable. India has always been criticised for the lack of social security for the lower strata of its society. The plight of the daily wage workers has always caused embarrassment to India on a global stage[1]. After a Lockdown was announced in India from the 25th of March, 2020[2], this problem gained even more prominence as the government failed to make any provisions to ensure that the migrant workers had a chance to even return to their families. Instead, they were stranded outside their native places with no means to return. Despite the Centre denying that a migrant crisis even existed[3], it is imperative to understand the rights guaranteed to migrants under the various international conventions that India is a party to. The foremost international authority that deals with the issue of migrant worker rights in its member countries is the International Labour Organization, or the ILO, which equates labour rights to basic human rights.

The most important convention laid down by the ILO is the ILO Declaration Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, 1998[4]. This declaration lays down standards that abolish child labour, forced labour, bonded labour and establishes four core principles: Freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively; elimination of all forms of forced labour; abolition of child labour, and; equal pay for equal work. All of this principles have contributing conventions and declarations that help them gain relevance with changing times. These range from the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention, 1948[5] to the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957[6], the Minimum Age Convention, 1973[7] and even the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958[8].

All of these conventions, along with several others, aim to ensure that migrant workers are accorded the most basic of human rights that they are entitled to. The member nations of the ILO, including India, are under an obligation to inform the ILO of their policies on migrant workers whenever they are requested. This gains importance when the fact that migrant workers in India barely have any social security is taken into consideration. 

Another convention that deserves special mention is the Migrant Workers Recommendation, 1975[9]. Especially in the Indian context, this convention gains even more relevance because it aims at facilitating  the family reunification of migrant workers. It also contains provisions regarding the protection of health of migrant workers and also those regarding the employment and residence of these very workers. It talks about how the migrant workers should have the right of appeal in case of termination of his services, expulsion from residence and the like. It holds that representatives of all parties concerned – workers and employers alike – should be consulted on securing social security.

In conclusion, it is imperative to understand that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on the lives of migrant workers, not only in India but also all over the world. Be it temporary migrant workers or even permanent migrant workers, everyone has been affected. People have lost their jobs, are unable to meet their families and have even lost their lives. The Indian state has several legislations in place to secure the rights of migrants, but their execution can always be debated. International organizations, too, have several conventions in place to guide member nations regarding the positions of migrant workers in their countries. While not legally enforceable, these serve as a guiding light for countries that look to secure rights for migrant workers in their countries.