Reducing Vulnerability to Bondage in India through Promotion of Decent Work

The overall objective of the project is to bring significant reduction in household vulnerability to bondage in India through an integrated approach to promote Decent Work

Project description

In the year 2008, the Ministry of Labour and Employment (MoLE) - ILO Project on “Reducing Vulnerability to bondage in India through the Promotion of Decent Work” was initiated in response to a request from the MoLE, Government of India in the selected clusters of Rice Mills and Brick Kilns of Tamil Nadu. Implementation of the pilot project in Tamil Nadu (2008-2010), helped in devising the four pronged strategy for intervention, on which this current project is designed and being implemented in 6 states during the period December 2011 – November 2013.

Background and rationale

Vulnerability to bondage in unorganized sectors is rooted in long-standing patterns of inequality, social exclusion and discrimination as well as deficiencies in labour market governance. The factors precipitating such bondage include distress migration for work, lack of adequate livelihood opportunities locally, no awareness or access to the services of formal financial institutions and productive assets, illiteracy, existing social inequalities based on caste and ethnicity. In destination areas, severe physical, social and economic hardships, exploitative labour conditions, exploitation at the hand of recruiters/middle men and a total absence of social protection for these workers further deepens their vulnerability. The bonded labour has been outlawed in India since the adoption of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act in 1976, which also provides for the identification, rescue, and rehabilitation of bonded labour. Also, it has been seen that rescued workers often slip back into the cycle of bondage because of the inadequate nature of the rehabilitation package, lack of skills to enter into alternate employment, and lack of employment opportunities locally.

So this project looks at a prevention approach by reducing the conditions that perpetrate bondage like situations through promotion of decent work. The project aims to improve the conditions of these workers in situ including by removing possible elements of bondage and coercion in the labour relationship. The project also looks inter-state coordination mechanisms for migrant workers including work place improvements, organization and unionization of workers, and linking them to social security schemes.

Geographical coverage

Brick Kiln sector in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Bihar have been identified by MoLE and the ILO for replicating the project approach based on the learnings from the Tamil Nadu pilot initiative.

Target group

Local and migrant workers and their children in brick kilns. The project is targeted at the migrant workers in Brick Kilns who often enter into ‘neo-bondage” situations (shorter-term bondage, based primarily on economic transactions as opposed to the more complex social and economic dependency manifested in the older forms) wherein the workers take short terms loans at high rates and their failure to repay them back, creates a vicious cycle of debt and bondage. The workers pledge their labour to repay the loans.

Project Strategy

For the replicability, upscaling of activities, and sustainability of the pilot initiative, it was felt essential that an integrated and comprehensive convergence approach is adopted for implementation of the project. This necessitated that the State Governments co-own the project with MoLE and ILO, and implement the activities in the state with the support of MoLE, the role of ILO being to provide technical assistance to both the national and state governments. The basis of this approach is to mobilise locally available resources to lift workers permanently out of the circle of poverty and indebtedness, ensuring in the process that development programmes of the government reach the right target group, and that the workers build collective strength and voice.

The project aims to make interventions at source and destination areas of migrant workers through a combination of measures of migrant workers. In the Districts of destination/workplaces, worker and family welfare and other enterprise productivity-enhancing measures will aim together to uplift conditions in the workplaces, and hence enable the fulfillment of basic workers’ rights without undermining enterprise viability. In the source Districts from where migrant workers originate, measures will be taken to improve the functioning of recruitment systems, so as to eliminate the use of abusive and coercive practices, and to better track migrant workers to improve their access to social protection and other government funded schemes.

The work is based on a four pronged strategy, which is adapted to suit the conditions depending upon the location and sectors concerned namely a) ensuring social protection for workers and their family members b) Implementing workplace improvement measures c) empowering the workers by imparting rights-based awareness education d) exploring improvements in recruitment systems and working conditions.

Key partners