Kerala govt's move to make registration mandatory for migrant workers invites criticism


CG Sankar

Kochi: Terming the state government's move to bring in an ordinance to make registration madatory for all migrant labourers anti-constitutional, various NGOs working for their welfare have urged the government to back down from the controversial decision.

The state labour department has also entrusted 'Smart IT', a private firm, for registering migrant labourers in the state.

According to the data available wth the labour department, there are 5.1-lakh migrant labourers in the state.

The officials of the department admit that this figure could be wrong as they have no accurate record on the exact number of migrant labourers. According to the data of the state planning board, there were roughly 30-lakh migrant labourers in the state in 2017.

The move to make registration mandatory has gained momentum in the wake of the recent incident at Kizhakkambalam labour camp of Kitex Group on December 25. A team of officials from the labour department, headed by Labour Commissioner Dr. S Chithra IAS, visited the labour camp of Kitex Group on December 29 to assess the living conditions of the labourers.

“We are in the process of bringing in a legislation to make registration mandatory for migrant workers. However, there are some legal complications in it's way as the migrant labourers have the right to travel, stay and work anywhere in the nation.These rights are guaranteed to them by the Constitution of India. Making mandatory registration may violate their rights,” said the labour commissioner.

She also admitted that the department does not have an accurate record on the number of migrant labourers here. “The department held a survey a few years back at labour camps and registered them. A total of 510744 migrant workers have been registered in the survey. Most of the registered were working under contractors or specific companies. However, there are many scattered migrant workers. Registering all of them is a herculean task and we are in the process,” added the labour commissioner.

All the 510744 migrant workers have been made the benificiary of Awaz health insurance scheme and also entrusted Smart IT to issue biometric cards to them. However, issuing biometric cards to all the registered workers has been stopped half-way as the firm faced a technical glitch.

“These registrations were not mandatory as we cannot force them to do it. We are in the process of submitting a proposal to the state government on the need to make registration mandatory. The government will assess all aspects of it to go ahead with it by not violating their rights guaranteed by the Constitution,” added the labour commissioner.

The government considers registration of migrant workers is inevitable as the involvement of migrant workers in various crimes, including the murder of Jisha and Manasa and the recent incident in Kizhakkambalam, has come out.

According to a report, as many as 3,436 migrant labourers were involved in various crimes in the state in the past five years. “There could be some criminals among the migrant labourers, but that does not mean all of them are criminals. They are here to work and they play an integral role in the growth of the state. We cannot ignore or neglect their contributions,” said Dr. Benoy Peter, Executive Director, Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development (CMID), an NGO working for the welfare of migrant workers.

He also said that the move to make registration mandatory for migrant workers is a naked violation of their rights and the state government must pull back from it. “It is like blaming them and making them accountable for all the issues. The contractor and the company owner, who hire them, should be accountable and responsible. The trade unions here have been keeping a blind eye on their issues. They are paid less and face alienation of different forms. The move to make mandatory registration is not a fair choice and a violation,” he added.

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