Originally appeared in Gauri Lankesh News.

Karnataka Government has announced a relief package of Rs.1250 Crores for workers in the unorganised sector, hit by the lockdown. Rs. 2000 will be given as part of the package to the workers. However, the government has specified that only “locals” would be the benefactors of such a scheme, leaving out migrant workers who form a large percentage of the unorganised sector in the state, doing jobs such as domestic work, ragpicking, barbers, tailors, etc.

Migrant Workers Solidarity Network (MWSN) a collective of concerned citizens working amongst the migrant workers in Bangalore conducted interviews with migrant workers in Hebbal area of Bangalore.

During the interview, a number of migrant workers from Bengal who were doing ragpicking work  spoke about their conditions since the pandemic hit. With their work shutting down yet again in the second wave, they have received no food, rations, cash transfers or any form of aid from the government.

Rosey M, who works with MWSN mentions how this time around, there is hardly any prioritisation of the conditions of migrant workers by states, and the Central Government. While last year’s first wave saw a similar amount of negligence towards them, with many people not having any means to go back home from far away cities, or hardly having any relief and financial aid from the government, there should have been measures set in place for the second wave. With trade unions and civil society organisations demanding for universal PDS and accessible and smooth registration for welfare schemes, there still seems to be no pre-emptive measures to safeguard workers during the second wave. With this addition of primarily ‘local’ workers, the state goes a step further and negates the need to safeguard interests of migrant workers. With strict lockdowns in place most of the people working in the unorganised sector are out of work. While last year, NGOs and relief organisations helped in providing dry rations and supplies in the absence of government aid, this time around much of the relief has been directed towards managing the virus itself with shortage of oxygen and beds in hospitals.

What is most shocking is how even after last year, when the negligence of migrant workers was brought to everyone’s attention, the situation has not changed at all this year. Official records relating to migrant workers’ deaths, loss of jobs and covid-19 cases have still not been released; there has been hardly any pre-emptive measure to organise transport, and yet again people were forced to go to railways stations in huge numbers. This year, with the lockdowns being repeatedly extended week by week, as opposed to a nation-wide lockdown, the Central government seems to be transferring all responsibility of welfare of workers during the pandemic and lockdowns, onto states.

While the Karnataka Government released a similar financial aid scheme last year, a large number of workers couldn’t avail the benefits as they were not able to register with the Karnataka State Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Board. Last year, out of the three crore people working in the unorganised sector, only 85,000 people were able to get registration with the Social Security Board.

By basing eligibility for registration on being a ‘local’ worker, the above scheme shows a complete lack of acknowledgment of how migrant workers form a majority of the unorganised sector in the state.

“How can state overlook it’s backbone of workforce i.e Migrants?

This is outrightly discriminatory. These schemes, relief packages need more clarity on how to avail these and should involve less paperwork/documents. It should be inclusive of all workers who toil for the city no matter where their native places are.” – Rosey M from Migrant Workers Solidarity Network.