Left-led Kerala govt will be first in country to provide insurance, free medical treatment for migrant workers

Bhupesh Roy is from Assam but he is a long way from home. He has been working in the southern state of Kerala in the construction sector for the past four years and earns around Rs 500 a day, for an average of 20 days a month. “Two months ago, I fell sick. I had food poisoning and was admitted to hospital. I had fever too. For a week, I was admitted to a small private hospital. But then also, bills were around Rs 7000. My friends had to collect money to clear the bills,” laments Roy.

His story is not unique, he says. Medical bills eat into the meager earnings of migrants like Roy, leaving them with little to send back home. “Recently, one of my friends met with an accident at the workplace. He fell down from a scaffolding. He suffered severe injuries. We gave him initial medical treatment here for a month and sent him back to Assam. One month of treatment had cost us around Rs 80,000. If we had some kind of insurance support at that time, it would have been a great relief for us,” added Roy.

It’s almost as if the Kerala government has heard Roy’s wish. Around 30 lakh such migrants in Kerala will get insurance coverage soon, as state officials will start the field work for implementing the same by end of May, according to a senior official. “By the end of May, we will start collecting proper numbers of internal migrant workers. We have planned to issue them cards and provide insurance coverage,” A Alexander, Additional Labour Commissioner (Enforcement) at Kerala’s Labour Department, told Firstpost, adding that Kerala will be the first state in the country to implement such a kind of scheme.

According to the senior official, the migrants, who are mainly blue-collar workers in the state, will get free medical treatment up to Rs 15,000 at state selected hospitals and they will also be able to claim Rs 2 lakh as accident death compensation.

“It will be a scheme which will be renewed every year. The state government has already allocated Rs 10 crore for the scheme and we have roped in a firm through fair selection procedure to provide the best for workers,” Alexander added.

No safety net for migrants

A study sponsored by the Kerala Institute of Labour and Employment and released in 2016 reveals that 87 percent of these migrants do not have health insurance.

Like Roy, Krishan Chand is a migrant form West Bengal who has been working as a hair stylist for the last six years in Thiruvananthapuram. Chand agrees that they are the least protected workers in the state and if the government implements such a scheme it would be a blessing for them.

Bhupesh Roy, a migrant from Assam who works in the construction sector in Kerala. Image Courtesy of the author.

Bhupesh Roy, a migrant from Assam who works in the construction sector in Kerala. Image Courtesy of the author.

“I don’t face much hassle at my workplace. But majority of my friends are in the construction sector and carry out risky jobs. When they meet any accident at work place, they are left on their own. Most of the time contractors disappear,” Chand said adding that if government is coming out with an insurance scheme, it would be a great relief for them to foot the medical bills when they fall sick.
“Even if it is for the treatment of fever, one visit to hospital will cost around Rs 500 including medicines,” Krishan added.

A paper released by the International Journal of Commerce, Business and Management in 2016 states around 60 percent of internal migrants are workers in the construction sector and the rest in the hospitality, manufacturing, trade and agriculture sectors.

“The majority of the internal migrant workers in Kerala are from West Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa. They remit more than Rs 17,500 crores to their states from Kerala,” the paper adds.

Mini Mohan, a trade unionist in Kerala, said that health insurance coverage for internal migrant workers is the need of the hour. “As majority of these workers take up work which is hazardous in nature without much safety and protection, chances of them getting hurt or falling ill is more. And when something bad happens, they struggle to get treatment on time without financial support,” said Mohan who is with the Kerala Kettitada Nirmana Thozhilali Congress, which is affiliated to the International Labour Organisation. “Majority of the places of stay of these kind of workers are also unhygienic. So, such a kind of insurance coverage is the need of the hour,” Mohan added.

A research conducted by Gulati Institute of Finance and Taxation for the Kerala Government in 2013 reveals that there are over 2.5 million internal migrant workers in Kerala with an annual arrival rate of 2.35 lakh.

According to the Gulati Institute, 14 percent of migrant workers in Kerala are from Uttar Pradesh, 17 percent from Assam, 20 percent from West Bengal, 18 percent from Bihar, 6 percent from Orissa and the rest are from other states.

Updated Date: May 01, 2017 10:54 AM

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