Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN) -- comprising more than 70 volunteers mostly from the Right-to-Food and Right-to-Work civil society groups -- started working among migrant workers since the 27th of March, 2020. So far, SWAN volunteers have interacted with 640 groups of stranded migrants adding up to a total of 11,159 workers. All data collected in the rapid assessment action survey and provided in the report entitled 21 Days and Counting: COVID-19 Lockdown, Migrant Workers, and the Inadequacy of Welfare Measures in India (released on 14 April, 2020) is for the period 27th March, 2020 - 13th April, 2020.
At the inception, the objective of SWAN volunteers was to receive distress calls made by the stranded migrants and help them out. However, a collective decision was soon taken to collect data from the migrants while simultaneously addressing their basic needs.
In the study sample, majority of the migrant workers were found to be stranded in Maharashtra (39,923), followed by Karnataka (3,000) and then Uttar Pradesh (1,618). In Uttar Pradesh, almost all the calls to SWAN volunteers were received from Kanpur area with a few calls from Noida and Ghaziabad regions.
Through their small initiative, based on assessment of needs, the SWAN initiative disbursed around Rs. 3.87 lakhs in the form of micro transfers (approximately Rs. 205 per person) to groups of migrants. So far, 203 people have made financial contributions in this endeavour. Several distressed people have re-approached the SWAN volunteers for more money since they were not able to access government supplies and exhausted all their resources. The responses of local administration in the states vary starkly.
Profiling the stranded migrant workers:
• Out of 11,159 stranded migrant workers SWAN volunteers spoke with, 1,643 were women and children.
• Roughly 79 percent were daily wage factory/ construction workers, 8 percent were non-group based daily wage earners like drivers, domestic help etc. and 8 percent were self-employed like vendors, zari workers etc. (This is out of 3,900 stranded workers for whom SWAN volunteers could collect this data).
• The average daily wage in the sample was Rs. 402. The median daily wage was Rs. 400.
• About 28 percent of those who reached out to SWAN volunteers were originally from Jharkhand, about a quarter were from Bihar and about 13 percent were from Uttar Pradesh.
• A small percentage of those stranded had just recently migrated to a different state for work, and had barely started work when the lockdown was announced.
Despite some meaningful state orders, the workers’ testimonies at the time they reached out to SWAN volunteers present a sombre picture, according to the present report.
• Almost 50 percent of workers had rations left for less than 1 day.
• Nearly 96 percent had not received rations from the government and 70 percent had not received any cooked food.
• Roughly 78 percent of people had less than Rs. 300 left with them.
• Around 89 percent had not been paid by their employers at all during the lockdown.
• Approximately 44 percent of the calls received from stranded migrants were “SOS” with no money or rations left or had skipped previous meal.
• The rate of hunger exceeded the rate of relief. The percentage of people who said they have less than 1 day of rations increased from 36 percent to 50 percent in the third week of lockdown while the percentage of people who received government rations increased from 1 percent to only 4 percent in the third week of lockdown.
• The percentage of people who did not get cooked food from the government or any local organisation decreased from 80 percent to about 70 percent from the end of second week post lockdown to the end of third week post lockdown.
• The figures of 0.6 million migrants who are in relief shelters and 2.2 million migrants who have been provided food, mentioned in the status report filed by the government in the Supreme Court are just another indication of gross underprovisioning for migrants during the lockdown.
• There is a statutory obligation to record migrant labour in many legislations that is binding on the central and state governments such as the National Disaster Management Act (2005), the Interstate Migrant Worker Act (1979), and the Street Vendors Act (2014), among others. Further there are other wage laws which mandate that workers are entitled to the payment of full and timely wages, to displacement allowance, a home journey allowance including payment of wages during the journey. It is the government’s responsibility to ensure compliance of these laws for a safe and secure working environment for migrant workers.