Unionists in Tamil Nadu demand protection of migrant workers

Indian authorities must do more to protect the rights of workers abroad. This message was delivered at a trade union conference in Chennai in South Indian state Tamil Nadu organized by the construction workers’ union TKTMS. More than 200 union members including 120 women had gathered for the meeting that was held in conjunction with the International Migrants’ Day on the 18th of December.

Returnee migrants were also invited to share their experiences and spread awareness among the workers on how to protect their rights. Representatives from the Migrant Workers Rights Coalition (MRC) which is a State-level coalition of five major organisations including TKTMS, addressed the meeting. The role of Government was viewed as highly significant to curb the violations arising at the time of recruitment and also upon return and reintegration with the society. The meeting strongly urged the MRC to engage political parties on the issue of international migration and make it a political agenda especially as the state elections are due in 2016.

Following this, on 23rd December 2015, the TKTMS organised a high-level conference with the political parties at the State Capital – Chennai. Senior leaders from the five major political parties were present at this meeting.

“We urge the political parties to take up the issues of workers who out-migrate in large numbers and are left on their own without any support, even from their own state. It is not only our responsibility to ensure safe migration but also the Government needs to invest in creating decent employment opportunities in Tamil Nadu State so that migration is borne out of informed choices and is not a socio-economic compulsion,” said Ponkumar, president of TKTMS.

A number of issues including overcharging by recruitment agencies, inadequate migrant workers’ data maintenance at the village and district level, need for restoring the Non-Residents Tamil Welfare Board in the State and the Tamil Nadu Academy for Construction for skill development were emphasized.