BHUBANESWAR : The Labour and Employees' State Insurance (ESI) Department has told Odisha Human Rights Commission (OHRC) that the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, 1979 has not proved much of a deterrent against illegal engagement of migrant labourers.
Under the Act, a contractor illegally employing labourers is liable to imprisonment for one year or a penalty of `1,000, or both. However, the light punishment as well as low conviction rate has failed to arrest the trend.
Appearing before the Commission, Secretary of Labour and ESI Department as well as Labour Commissioner presented the measures undertaken by the Government to curb the menace arising out of migration of labourers in connection with a petition filed over brutal torture of a 12-year-old child labourer Sushant Kumbhar of Kadalimunda village in Balangir district's Patnagarh block.
The Department informed that the Act requires contractors to secure a license in the event of hiring five or more labourers for engagement in other States. During 2014, at least 3,044 licenses were issued by the Department and officially, 1,19,001 labourers were engaged by the contractors. During the last five years, the Department has made 1,016 inspections and submitted prosecution in 236 cases. However, the conviction rate is low. In the last three years, only 18 cases ended in conviction.
Earlier in August, the Commission had directed the Department to submit the steps taken to implement the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act and the Centrally Sponsored Plan Scheme for Rehabilitation of Bonded Labour in the State.
Presenting the details, the Department stated that Balangir alone accounted for 52,047 labourers migrating in a year of which over 32 per cent are women. In 11 KBK districts except Malkangiri, migration is an annual affair. The labourers have been heading to other States in search of work and better remuneration.
However, due to frequent change of workplace and destination, monitoring has emerged as a problem for the Government. With most being taken advantage of by unauthorised contractors, the labourers are grossly exploited. The Department acknowledged that at least 40 per cent of the contractors are unauthorised and they make advance payments to the labourers leaving them vulnerable.
The Department, however, claimed that the State Government has made independent budget provisions for safety and welfare of migrant labourers besides putting in place awareness drives to sensitise the vulnerable workers about the measures put in place for them.
A State Action Plan for Elimination of Child Labour in Odisha is also in its draft stage. Rights activists Biswapriya Kanungo and Bijay Kumar Panda had filed the petition before the OHRC in the case.