08, Dec 2022 | Mohammed Ripon Sheikh
There’s an ever-increasing disregard and indifference towards migrant workers – by the system – their employers – even human rights organisations. People living below the poverty lines are constantly trying to fend for their needs, hardly being able to achieve anything that they really dream about. The price of daily goods has become extremely high. And post lockdown, the situation has only deteriorated. Factories are getting shut – small businesses have closed down – workers are out of work, not being paid – their young kids are quitting school and going to work. In many cases attempts to cut overtime are resisted by migrant workers, who experience this as a drop in their already meagre salaries. Migrant workers often do the same job as carried out by local workers but for lower wages and in poorer conditions.
Sixteen migrant workers from Bengal’s Birbhum district went to work in Maharashtra with dreams and hopes of being able to make a decent living, save and send money back home. They found work at a construction site in Washim. After working for months, they realised that the contractor has not been clearing their dues, close to 1.3 lakhs in total. In this hopeless situation, they turned to me. Together, with our organisations, we got in touch with the National commission of Labour (NCL) and the local district police of Washim. When the NCL got in touch with the contractor, he was forced to rectify his mistake. He paid half the amount right away and has promised to pay the other half within a few days. But had the labourers not persevered, like many others, they would have been left without their deserving wages.
CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program is a unique initiative aiming to give voice and agency to the young, from among the communities with whom we work closely. These presently include migrant workers, Dalits, Adivasis and forest workers. CJP Fellows report on issues closest to their hearts and home, and are making impactful change every day. We hope to expand this to include far reaching ethnicities, diverse genders, Muslim artisans, sanitation workers and manual scavengers. Our raison d’etre is to dot India’s vast landscape with the committed human rights workers who carry in their hearts Constitutional values, to transform India into what our nation’s founders dreamt it to be. Please Donate Now to increase the band of CJP Grassroot Fellows.
Sheikh Ziarat, one of the workers, said to me, “we left our families and came to work. Everyone hopes to get a salary after completing the job but in our case there was an exception. The contractor said he would not pay us for negligence in the work but we continued to work. Such injustices are being done to the workers constantly in different parts of India. We want to solve this problem. . There is no organisation solely committed for the rights of migrant workers’ in India. Migrant workers work in an unorganised manner. We are constantly overworked and underpaid. The sooner we workers can come together, the better it is for us.”
It is on the issue of wages that most cases of action involving migrant workers are taken. The insecurity they face as a result of lack of legal protection makes the risk of taking action very high. Additionally, many migrant workers tolerate long hours and horrific conditions and still do not get a guaranteed salary. Recently, at the United Nations’ first International Migration Review Forum Progress Declaration, Wage theft was discussed at great lengths. The Progress Declaration reads that “many migrant workers, especially women migrant workers, continued to face precarious working conditions, wage theft, labour exploitation, reduced wages salaries, discriminatory dismissals, withholding of benefits, forced unpaid leave and protracted separation from their families, which have been exacerbated during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
This report is part of CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program, and has been written by aspiring journalist and student activist Ripon Sheikh from Birbhum in West Bengal. In these reports Ripon looks at the people around him – migrant workers, the families they leave behind, agricultural labourers, women who do housework, rural artisans and young people, with a keen sense of compassion.
Meet CJP Grassroot Fellow Mohammed Ripon Sheikh
This young man, who has graduated with a B.Sc degree from Burdwan University, loves trivia. Sheikh’s passion to research and seek “unknown information about World History” has earned him many medals and trophies at various University and state-level Quiz championships, and youth festivals. Sheikh is a born orator and a natural community leader. He has the potential to represent his community, state and country at a global level one day. His immediate goal, however, is to find a job so he can support his parents.