Rapid study: Mass unemployment worries over 90% migrant workers of Madhya Pradesh

A rapid study conducted by a Bhopal based non-profit Vikas Samvad Samiti (VSS), on situation of migrant labourers who returned to Madhya Pradesh reveals shocking results. The study was released in a virtual press meet on May 26 by social activists associated with VSS–Sachin Kumar Jain and Rakesh Kumar Malviya. VSS conducted the study on 310 migrant labourers from 10 districts of Madhya Pradesh.

The rapid study revealed that while more than 90 percent believe they will face severe unemployment, around 82 percent say they will be in debt for the better part of their lives as they have no sources of income.

Most of the migrant labourers (91.2%) who have returned to Madhya Pradesh apprehend that they will be trapped in the crisis of unemployment. As many as 81% of the workers believe that the pandemic has created an emergency situation and there is an acute crisis of medical facilities for treatment of novel coronavirus. Around 82.3% of the migrant laborers are worried that they will be caught in the web of debt.

Madhya Pradesh has been witnessing a large scale reverse migration since nationwide lockdown to fight Covid-19 crisis. According to MP government’s official data the state had made arrangements for the return of only 4.63 lakh migrant workers from across different states until 20th May 2020, including 1.93 lakh migrant laborers from Gujarat, 1 lakh from Rajasthan and 1.07 lakh from Maharashtra. In addition to this information, an assessment informs that as many as 10 lakh laborers have reached homes or are on their way either on foot or with some other modes of transport, on their own.

According to the Census 2011, around 30.29 lakh migrants from Madhya Pradesh had moved over to 17 states. These included 10.18 lakh men and 20.11 lakh women. The Census 2011 also brings out that the out-migration of women is essentially linked to their marriage whereas that of the men is associated with their employment. Thus, assuming that 50% of women had migrated because of marriage factor, as of 2011 and that as many as 20 lakh persons had migrated to other states from Madhya Pradesh for the job-related reasons. Going by the rate of increase of population at 1.9% per annum, lack of opportunities for employment, absence of policies on rural economies and poor health-nutrition indicators, it is estimated that as many as 30 lakh persons may have migrated to other states. “It needs to be asserted that Covid-19 is not just a health-related disaster. It is also a social and economic emergency that has engulfed India in the whirlpool of uncertainty. In the midst of these circumstances, Vikas Samvad has sought to undertake a Rapid Study on the returning migrant laborers,” said the study brief.

Main Findings from the Rapid Study

Classification of Migrant Laborers

  • 45.5% laborers had out-migrated with their families whilst the remaining 54.5% had gone alone.
  • 31.9% workers were of ages 8-25 years, 43.8% of 26-40 years and that 24.2% of 40+ years.
  • 50.6% migrant laborers were employed in the constructions sector, 21% in the business/enterprises and 16.7% in factories/industries.
  • 26.8% of the returning migrant laborers are from within the districts of Madhya Pradesh whilst 16.1% are from Gujarat, 13.2% from Delhi, NOIDA, Gurgaon, and Faridabad region. 11.9% of the migrant laborers have come back from Uttar Pradesh and that 6.5% from Maharashtra.
  • The average daily earning ranged from Rs. 201 to Rs. 300 for 29.4% of the of the migrant laborers, from Rs.301 to Rs.400 for 41.6% laborers and that 17.1% laborers earned from Rs. 401 to Rs.500 per day.
  • 56.5% of the laborers had out-migrated for a period of 3 to 6 months whilst 21.6% had gone out from their home villages for less than 3 months and that 16.8% for 6 months to 11 months.  
  • 93.2% of the migrant laborers had not received any formal letter of appointment or contract of employment. Thus, their employment was devoid of any vested legal rights.
  • As the mode of payment of wages varies from being daily, weekly, or monthly or whilst returning back to home, the sudden lockdown has left 47% laborers either unpaid or only partially paid.
  • Whilst the entire nation is basking in the glory of digital payment system, the study informs that 85.8% migrant laborers received their remittances in cash. Thus, no systematic evidence exists with regard to the employment and wages paid for.
  • 81% migrant laborers informed that they did not get any leave or holidays during their employment. Moreover, the wages are deducted for the absent days resulting in the loss of their earnings. 
  • As many as 57.4% migrant laborers do not have any burden of loans/borrowings.
A woman migrant labour sharing her ordeal the rapid survey team
Image- Vikas Samvad Samiti

Circumstances Arising Amidst Covid-19

  • The kind of treatment, economic insecurity and agony that has been faced, 54.6% of the migrant laborers in the Study area are rather averse to migrating back should the Covid-triggered situation return to normalcy. About one-fourth (24.5%) of the returning migrants are indecisive whether they would choose to out-migrate again and if yes, when. Around one-fifth (21%) migrants, however, are clear in their minds to get back after the normalcy for workers gets restored.
  • 23% of the returning migrant laborers were left with an amount of less than Rs. 100/- whilst 7% of the laborers did not even have a rupee with them! About one-fourth (25.2%) workers had money ranging from Rs.101/- to Rs. 500/- whilst 18.1% had money ranging from Rs. 501/- to Rs.1000/-. Only 11% laborers had cash of more than Rs.2001/-
  • Most (91.2%) of the migrant laborers apprehend that they will be trapped in the crisis of unemployment. As many as 81% of the workers believe that there is an emergency of the pandemic and crisis of lack of treatment facilities looms large. 82.3% of the migrant laborers are worried that they will be caught in the web of debts. Around three-fourth (76.5%) workers fear that there will be widespread hunger. Around half (53.5%) of them are worried that they may have to resort to distress selling of their land and household items and that the women may have to sell off their jewelry.

How to Combat the Covid-19 Emergency?

  • 90.3% of the migrant laborers are of the view that all members of their families of the employable age should be given employment.
  • 93.9% of the returning migrant laborers believe that all of them should be provided subsidized ration. They point out that still there are many families who are not registered with the Public Distribution System (PDS). Further, there are many families whose members’ names are missing in the list of eligible persons.
  • All of the returning migrants expect that the rates of minimum wages must be raised to 150% of that of the existing ones.
  • All of these returning migrants believe quality education and training for children and adolescents shall go a long way in bringing about positive change in the situation of the migrating laborers.
  • Around two-third (63.2%) workers expect to be covered in some pension scheme or be benefited with direct financial support.
  • As many as 87.7% migrant laborers want better health services at the community development block level.
  • 76.8% of the migrant workers desire to be endowed with legal entitlement to employment and land for housing.


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