Domestic Migrant Labourers (DML) has become one of Kerala’s wealth creators. While their numbers have grown in recent years, we in the State know little about them, care little for them, and do little for them.
Concerned on the need to know more about the DML in Kerala, the my Department of Labour and Rehabilitation entrusted a study on the DML in the State to the Gulati Institute of Finance and Taxation.
The study adopted a unique methodology, namely a train-based survey of Domestic Migrant Labour to estimate their numbers and their annual inflow into Kerala. The train-baed survey covered all the 63 long distance trains entering Kerala through Kasaragod and Palakkad. This survey generated estimates of the number of DML in Kerala. It is estimated from the Survey that there are over 25 lakh Domestic Migrant Labour in Kerala today with an annual arrival rate of 2.35 lakhs. The remittances to their home states by the DML are over Rs. 17,500 crores.
The study shows that over 75 per cent of the DML come from five states, namely West Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa. It is a work force consisting almost entirely of Single Males aged between 18 to 35 years and is highly mobile within Kerala. While friends and relatives are the main channel of migration, they mostly work under contractors and get employment for six and at times even seven days a week. Whereas 60 per cent of them work in the construction sector, they also work in the hospitality, manufacturing, trade and agriculture sectors. Their skills range from unskilled to skilled carpenters, masons, electricians and the like. Over 70 per cent of them earn wages above Rs. 300 per day. On an average, they remit Rs. 70,000 per person annually and the remittances are almost entirely through banking channels.
DML work long hours, often 8 to 10 hours per day. They are generally very dedicated and sincere to their work; there are hardly any complaints from their employers.
However they do not get the benefits of social security schemes. Many of them have worked outside their States of Origin before coming to Kerala. What has attracted them to Kerala is the relatively high wage level here and prompt payment at the end of the week. They are unaware of their labour rights and obligations. They are not unionized.
The housing and living conditions of the DML are abysmally poor. They often live in the worksites and factories itself, in crowded rooms with poor water supply and sanitation facilities. Only few of the rooms have proper kitchens. Cooking, bathing etc. takes place mostly in the open. The poor living conditions have raised fears of the spread of diseases among the local people.
Leaving the housing of DML to vagaries of the market forces leading to crowding and unhygienic conditions has compromised not only the health of the DML but also that of the local populace. The rising house rents have turned many local small enterprises uneconomic because they are forced to pay higher rents. Poorer local people are also finding the renting of houses unaffordable.
The large army of highly mobile DML has provided a supply of cheap labour to the productive sectors in Kerala. The very ‘formal’, labour-intensive sectors like infrastructure and manufacturing have found a way through DML to ‘informalize’ the labour. Since social security benefits are often not borne by the employers, the cost of production is brought down.
The recommendations of the study are the following:
- A voluntary registration of DML based on which all benefits to the DML will converge. A Common Single Point One-Time Voluntary Registration System led by the Department of Labour but implemented at the Local Self Government level is proposed. The benefits of all Government schemes will be conditional on registration.
- Improving Housing and Living Conditions of the DML should be the priority of the state government. Provision of affordable housing to the DML may be done by the State Government. Private enterprises with public support could be encouraged to build clean hygienic rooms etc. for the DML to be given out on rent to them.
- It is important for the state government to provide a social security net for the DML. Health coverage through national programmes such as the RSBY or special schemes may be thought of.
- Steps may be taken to make the DML aware of their rights and obligations by undertaking awareness programmes in their languages (Bengali, Hindi, Assamese, Oriya etc.) Awareness may be carried out over TV, Radio, Long Distance Train and on Railway Platforms.
- Sustaining good relations between the DML and the local population in Kerala is important. This is important to prevent social tensions in future. Dispelling the unfounded fears of both the DML and the local population should be the top priority. Local population may be made to realize that the DMO create wealth for the State.
- A Help-line staffed by people speaking different languages and with separate numbers for different languages should be a top priority.