Migrant workers to get minimum wages, rental homes but experts unhappy with lack of MNREGA push

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Migrant workers to get minimum wages, rental homes but experts unhappy with lack of MNREGA push
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  • Migrant and gig workers as a part of “all categories of workers” will receive minimum wages, said FM.
  • As per a 2015 change, minimum wage in India is at Rs 160 per day.
  • FM exempted notified affordable rental housing projects from tax to help migrants move away from shanties.
  • The number of people demanding work under MGNREGA is rapidly rising and the lack of announcements on it was disappointing, says Radhicka Kapoor of ICRIER.
All of India has gone through a lot of pain and suffering during the Covid-19 pandemic, but none worse than migrant workers. Be it babies riding on suitcases or young men dying of starvation, their plight brought tears to even the most unfeeling of humans. The Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has taken their pain into account and tried to ease at least some of it.

If all her proposals go through migrant and gig workers as a part of “all categories of workers” will receive minimum wages. As per a 2015 change, that wage is at Rs 160 per day. “We will conclude a process that began 20 years ago, with the implementation of the 4 labour codes. For the first time globally, social security benefits will extend to gig and platform workers. Minimum wages will apply to all categories of workers, and they will all be covered by the Employees State Insurance Corporation,” she said

This would be a game changer for around 453 million migrant workers in India who make up for 37% of India’s population, as per 2011 census. This large chunk of Indian workforce which has until now been unaccounted for, will receive a formal recognition as she proposed to launch a portal that will collect relevant information on gig, building and construction workers.

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“This will help formulate health, housing, skill, insurance, credit and food schemes for migrant workers,” FM Sitharaman said.

She also moved to reduce the poverty levels of these workers living in slums and shanties by pushing to increase the supply for rental, affordable housing. She exempted notified affordable rental housing projects from tax to ensure a roof remains over the head of these workers.

However, experts have been expecting more announcements on schemes like MGNREGA, which might help tackle the high unemployment rate in India. Indian unemployment rate was at 9% in December 2020 as per CMIE, even after almost all sectors have been unlocked. Sectors like hospitality, restaurants, travel and others are still operating on skeletal staff, which is leaving many jobless.

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“The informal sector is still reeling under a lot of stress. The number of people demanding work under MGNREGA is rapidly rising. Urban MGNREGA is important as there is no safety net,” said Rachicka Kapoor, a research fellow at ICRIER.

The FM announced a production-linked incentive scheme for 13 sectors. However, most of them concentrate on manufacturing which means only highly skilled workers would find employment. “Labour intensive sectors continue to go through a precarious phase. The government didn’t go for a big stimulus because they are still in crisis mode. But, eateries, barbers, one person enterprises, contact intensive services will continue to struggle,” Kapoor said.

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