Govt-run helplines across country not worker friendly, says volunteers' network

Express News Service
NEW DELHI: The government-run helplines have inadequate information and resources to help migrant workers, according to volunteers’ network Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN).

Calls made by SWAN to 80 officers from across 20 zones revealed they had an inadequate response mechanism for enquiries related to migrant workers’ non-payment of due wages, provision of rations or cooked food, financial assistance to meet basic needs, protection from eviction by home owners, and support for travel back to their home states. The helplines were not worker friendly and were deficient in responding to the multiple crises faced by workers, it said.

In April, the Ministry of Labour and Employment had announced the relaunch of last year’s control rooms to address the grievances of workers.

ALSO READ: Over 8 lakh migrant workers left Delhi in first four weeks of lockdown: Report

SWAN received over 10,000 distress calls in April and May. While the average daily wages of those who reached out to the group was around Rs 425, around 58 per cent of the workers had rations left for less than two days.

Around 33 per cent had not received wages, while 15 per cent had received partial payments, the SWAN survey said.

When SWAN volunteers reached out to helplines, the responses of officials varied across states. As opposed to the promised ‘any kind of help to a migrant worker’, officials said they could only resolve cases of workers employed in central government projects such as railways and other PSU projects.

When it came to lodging of complaints, officials asked for complaints to be submitted in writing which could be “forwarded” to concerned officials. While some officials were willing to take complaints over phone or WhatsApp, there were a few officials who insisted that complaints should be sent over email, the SWAN said. There was no process in place to track the follow-up action on the complaints. The labour control room officials suggested that workers follow up with the respective state labour commissioners.

When SWAN volunteers called, most officials failed to provide any leads for ration support to address the hunger distress of migrant workers. Most officials were unaware about the provisions for protection of workers from evictions due to non-payment of rent during the pandemic.