A survey has shown that 81% of migrant workers who were interviewed said that their work has stopped because of local lockdowns. The workers have reported that they have not had work for 19 days on average, it said.

The survey was conducted by the Stranded Workers Action Network, a group of volunteers set up last year that provides aid to migrant workers. Fifty-one groups/families of workers, comprising about 300 citizens, and an additional 91 workers, who were also interviewed last year, make up the sample size of the survey. The workers interviewed included those who had gone back home or were stranded.

In its report published on Wednesday, the group said 68% of the workers interviewed said they have received either full or partial wages for the last month. However, only 18% had received any money from their employer after work stopped.

“We have food as we have work,” said one of the workers. “No work means no food.”

The report also quoted a family in Bengaluru saying they did not earn any money for 10 days before the Karnataka government imposed a 14-day lockdown. They said they were worried about how they would tide over the lockdown.

The group also cited a tailor, employed at a garment company in Surat, Gujarat, saying that he had pending wages of around Rs 15,000. He added that the owner said the amount would only be paid after the market reopens.

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The 51 groups had reached out to the Stranded Workers Action Network. They are mainly based across the country but most of them belonged to states such as Delhi, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.

The report further said that while many of the workers left for their home villages, others were not sure if they should go back or wait for work to resume. “The inflated cost of travel has deterred many workers,” it said.

Those who had stayed back or were stranded were facing money shortages for essential expenses such as ration and room rent, the report said, adding that 76% of the workers said they need ration or cash support.

The report also pointed out that most migrants were not experiencing any serious coronavirus symptoms. However, some of them had expressed hesitancy to get vaccinations.

“Our initiative this past week has documented only a section of the distress of migrant workers and extended only a fraction of the support they need,” the Stranded Workers Action Network said. “However, we hope that in sharing their experience and continuing to collate their needs, we will be able to amplify their experiences of the lockdown and make the urgent case for supporting them in their hour of need.”

To address the problems faced by the migrant workers, the volunteer group recommended that the Centre should ensure that free ration coverage as part of Prime Minister Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana is extended to migrant workers.

“Government must ensure that every primary employer strictly adheres to paying the wages to their contractors and the workers,” the report said. “The Labour Ministry should also immediately issue an order demanding payment of wages by employers even during lockdowns/curfews.”

It further advised giving compensation of Rs 7,000 for the next three months to all migrant workers and priority households (as categorised by the state governments). The volunteer group also recommended stopping landlords from evicting tenants if they cannot pay the rent, and that an order be issued in this regard.

Exodus of migrant workers

As the coronavirus cases started to surge across the country migrants workers began to leave cities for their native places, fearing a lockdown. In Delhi, the workers had begun leaving after the Aam Aadmi Party announced a lockdown, though Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal had appealed to them not to leave the city. Similar scenes were witnessed in Mumbai too.

The mass exodus of migrant workers from major cities was a point of concern during the countrywide lockdown in March 2020. With most modes of public transport shut down, thousands of migrant workers were left with the option of either ferrying rides on private vehicles with cramped spaces, or walking hundreds of kilometres on the way to their hometowns.

Many of them blamed the sudden announcement of the lockdown in March last year. In Delhi too this year, migrant workers said that they should have been given more time to prepare before the restrictions were imposed.

During last year’s lockdown, workers had experienced a money crunch and problems such as lack of food. Last year’s survey of over 11,000 stranded migrant workers, done by the Stranded Workers Action Network, showed that half of them had stocks of ration that would only last less than a day. Out of these, 96% workers had not received rations from the government, and 70% had not received any cooked food. As many as 89% had not been paid by their employers at all during the lockdown, the report added.