Referring to the death of sixteen migrant workers who were mowed down by a train in Maharashtra's Aurangabad last week, Wipro's Founder Chairman Azim Premji called it 'an unforgivable tragedy', in an article authored by him in the Economic Times on Saturday, May 16. Lack of social security and worker protection killed those sixteen young men, and not because there is too much of it, he added.
He said that the tragedy is one of the "most wrenching markers of the tremendous misery being faced by the weakest and the poorest in this country".
Premji also expressed his shock over the state governments decision to suspend some labour laws related to settling industrial disputes, occupational safety, working conditions, trade unions, migrant labourers, minimum wages, among others. He called it a false choice, which could put workers and businesses against each other.
"Over the past few decades labour laws have changed such that they are hardly among industry's top constraints. At the same time, social security measures have not increased, thus worsening the precarity of the employed. Diluting these already lax laws will not boost economic activity, it will only exacerbate the conditions of the low wage earners and the poor," he said.
He said that it is the unjust treatment of the migrant labour that began the mass reverse migration.
At the time of an economic crisis affecting the agrarian sector and the informal economy, Azam Premji explained that adopting an approach of "'livelihoods versus lives' is not only a false option to choose but also a dysfunctional and unethical way of framing the issue.
"The pandemic must be dealt with on the healthcare front fully and comprehensively, while the people and the economy must be supported, equally to ameliorate the immediate human suffering and to minimise long-term damage. Given the seriousness of the situation, the Union and State Governments must play a central role," he said.
While he appreciated the Rs 20 lakh crore economic package announced by the government, Premji also put forward some suggestions on what actions should be taken over the coming 1-2 years.
One of the suggestion included that the 10% of the GDP that PM announced for combating the crisis, should be over and above the already promised government expenditure.
He also suggested an emergency cash relief of Rs 7,000 per month for at least 3 months for every poor household/migrant worker without biometric authentication. Minimum wages for 25 days per month to be released to all poor urban residents during the lockdown and for at least two months post the lockdown was also included in his suggestions.
Pointing at the expanding Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), Premji said that an additional allocation Rs 1 lakh crore should be made to MGNREGA, with an aim to increase the guaranteed number of days per household and increasing the daily wage, in a bit to help all those who demand work.
"We must universalise and double the PDS ration for 3-6 months and distribute it free through doorstep delivery along with cooking oil, pulses, salt, masala, sanitary pads and soap in advance to all," he wrote in the article.
Focusing on the freedom for stranded migrant workers, Premji said: "No one should be forced either to stay back or to return to their home states. Stranded migrant workers should be allowed to travel for free on buses and trains."
Emphasising on timely payment of wages, Premji suggested that an Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme similar to the MNREGA should be rolled out. "Serious and sustained Investment in public health will help the campaign against this and future pandemics, and help build up a desperately needed functioning and responsive National Health System in our country," he added.