Currently, there are over 140-150 million people internally migrating in India. Around 93% of India’s workforce is constituted of informal and migrant workers. They are overworked and underpaid, often susceptible to bondage, child labour, sexual harassment, physical abuse, and not paid wages and entitlements. Almost 70% of informal workers suffer a significant dispute in a year, losing more than one month’s wages each year. They are unable to access formal dispute resolution platforms through the police or labour courts due to lack of information, time, resources and the nature of work itself. Legal institutions are incapacitated in processing wage disuptes that are informal and undocumented in nature. COVID has also amplified the need and urgency for support for migrant workers.
The LEAD Cell demonstrates, through innovative strategies, that the challenges faced by formal systems in extending legal protection to the informal and migrant workforce can be overcome.
For starters, through their strong network of paralegals they provide pre-migration counseling to workers at pre-identified ‘source’ centers of migration in Rajasthan. The counseling includes information about their rights and about principal employers. This promotes awareness on rights and entitlements and good work practices among workers. It also equips workers to better negotiate their wages from employers. More importantly, it creates a sense of brotherhood and communitarianism among workers, independent of the industry or sector that they are absorbed in. Legal literacy is conducted in a simple FAQ format and is simplified through videos as well.
Additionally, they provide an attendance diary to these workers in which the workers can make a note of time spent on work, overtime, advance paid, and such other details. This attendance diary serves as evidence for workers during disputes because they are often left to challenge these disputes with no documentation. They have also launched a labour helpline number for workers to reach out to. They have conducted extensive outreach about the labour helpline number. The helpline is now funded by the State of Rajasthan; and is run in collaboration with them.
A LEAD Cell leverages mediation as an effective tool to settle disputes through a unique and effective tool suited to informal work conflicts. Employers tend to participate in these mediation processes as the burden of proof in formal systems is on them and they rarely maintain proper documentation. Where needed, the LEAD Cell activates formal mechanisms such as court, police, human right authorities, etc.