Kerala is the first State in the country to enact a social security scheme for the migrant workers. While a comprehensive legislation for migrants’ welfare is still in the works, the Kerala Migrant Workers Welfare Scheme 2010 was the beginning. The scheme provides a registered migrant four benefits: accident/ medical care for up to ₹25,000; in case of death, ₹1 lakh to the family; children’s education allowance; and termination benefits of ₹25,000 after five years of work. When a worker dies, the welfare fund provides for the embalming of the body and air transportation.

To avail the benefit, a worker needs to register with the scheme. The membership has to be renewed every year by paying ₹30. But till now, only about 50,000 out of an estimated more than 25 lakh migrants have signed up. T.A. Sulaiman, additional district executive officer for the scheme in Ernakulam, point out that 8,200 migrants in the district, which has the largest migrant population in the State, had joined the scheme. About 500 of them have renewed their membership regularly, which was essential for getting the terminal benefits. “In order to bring more migrants under the safety net of the scheme, the Government was now issuing pamphlets and application forms in Hindi,” says Sulaiman.

A paradox

Kerala’s labour economy is a paradox. Though it has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the country, Kerala is home to 25 lakh domestic migrants, most of whom hail from West Bengal, Assam, Odisha, Jharkhand, UP and Bihar. While the migrants remitted ₹ 17,000 crores back home in the fiscal 2014, Kerala’s economy is also dependent on the remittances from 24 lakh Malayalees who work abroad. In the fiscal 2014, non-resident Keralites sent back home ₹72, 000 crores, according to the Kerala Migration Study 2014 of the Thiruvananthapuram-based Centre for Development Studies. For the migrants in Kerala, availing information on the Government’s scheme is important. Rosily John, a Catholic nun working for the welfare of the migrants, says that the majority of migrants were unaware of the government scheme. “We have to goad them to sign up. Many do not possess the required documents and most of the employers refused to certify the workers they employ,” says John.

Martin Patrick, director of Rural Academy for Management Studies, Kochi, who has studied the migrant workers’ work and life, pointed out that “the scheme had not really taken off because of the reluctance of the workers and their employers and the lack of governmental dedication.” He suggested that there should be a wide campaign about the benefits of the scheme among the workers and the employers should be forced to acknowledge employing migrants.

Socially, Keralites have now recognized migrant workers as a reality. A popular television sit-com has a rural housewife character. She has learnt to speak Hindi to communicate with the migrant workers whom she encounters in every shop, restaurant and workplace.