New survey looks at living and working conditions of migrant workers in Karnataka

Understanding why people migrate, their living and working conditions, and their social support mechanisms can help create robust policies and programmes that do not invisibilise migrant workers.
Image for representation
Image for representation

The sight of thousands of migrant workers carrying their meagre possessions and children to return home during the Covid-19 pandemic is etched in our memories. According to the Economic Survey 2016-17, in the five years before 2016, an average of 9 million people migrated between states annually either for education or for work. Understanding why people migrate, their living and working conditions, and their social support mechanisms can help create robust policies and programmes that do not invisibilise migrant workers. It can, in turn, help reduce their vulnerabilities. 

The figures for Karnataka suggest a higher proportion of interstate migration (37.82%) as compared to India’s average (4.48%). This indicates that Karnataka is a net in-migration state. As per the 2011 census, 32 lakh migrants came into Karnataka from other states, while 25 lakh migrants from Karnataka were found to be residing in other states.

Socio-demography of Anekal taluk 

Anekal Jesuit Educational and Charitable Society (AJE&CS), registered in June 1976, has been working in Anekal of Bengaluru Urban district in Karnataka, through its social wing, the Centre for Integral Rural Welfare (CIRW). The Centre functions in 10 out of 28 panchayats in Anekal town and taluk and covers around 42 remote villages. The focus is on the rights of children and marginalised communities through literacy programmes, advocacy, networking, vocational training, and awareness programmes. 

Anekal faces issues like lack of education, unemployment, and discrimination based on disabilities, caste, and gender. There is a lack of employment opportunities for women and adolescent girls of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and minority communities.

Despite receiving primary education in rural government schools, the skill set of these communities is poor. Most of the women work as labourers, sheep grazers, domestic workers, or construction workers. With very little exception, most of them are malnourished, underpaid, abused, and exploited. 

From a baseline survey conducted by CIRW in July 2022, it was estimated that around 70% of the households that CIRW works with are daily wage labourers with erratic earnings that range from Rs 250 to Rs 300 a day. 

While 20% of the women work in garment factories, some run small shops or are vegetable vendors. Some women also work in nearby factories and companies on contract basis. Women often take loans from local money lenders, who charge high interest rates, making the repayment of loans very difficult. CIRW has been supporting savings and loans through self help groups, which makes them less vulnerable to exploitation. CIRW has also started evening study centres for school children. 

Ninety five percent of the population that CIRW works with hold Below Poverty Line (BPL) cards, while 0.6% have Above Poverty Line (APL) cards, 1.4% have Antyodaya cards, and 3.3% have no cards. A majority (40%) of the families have a family size of four and 25% have three. Major sources of income are wage labour (42%), salaried work (28%), and agriculture (15%). 

As for houses, 86% live in their own house, of which 58% were semi-pucca and 28% were pucca. Of these, 92% respondents have a toilet in their house.

Among the respondents, 74% do not own land. Of these, 29% owned less than 2.5 acres of land, 22% owned 7.5 to 10 acres, 19% owned 17 to 24 acres, and 6% owned more than 24 acres. 

Among the landowning families, 89% said they cultivated it. The main crop grown is millets (35%) followed by vegetables (22%). Those who do not irrigate their land and depend on rain make up 63%. 

The agricultural produce is not enough to meet the annual food requirements of 63% of the families. Forty five percent families avail rations from the Public Distribution System. 

Migrant workers in Anekal 

There has been an increasing presence of migrant workers in Anekal, which prompted CIRW to conduct a survey to understand theIR socio-demographic background. This helps to plan interventions better and understand the needs of the workers. The study was conducted on 536 workers who migrated to Jigani and Anekal between September 21 and October 20 this year, by CIRW staff and students of Masters in Social Work of St Joseph University, Bengaluru.

Questionnaires were verbally translated to the respondents in the respective languages of the migrant workers.

A majority (86%) of the migrant workers interviewed were men. Twenty three percent of the respondents had studied up to high school and 19% up to lower primary. While 56% are currently married, 44% are single. In the households of migrant workers, 57% are male and 43% female.

The main reason for migration is to increase family income (93%) while 2% had faced discrimination in their place of origin based on caste and religion.

With regard to educational qualifications, 31% of the workers had attended high school and 16% had completed Pre University Certificate, while 30% had received no formal education. 

While the majority (75%) of the workers are from other states, 25% are intra-state migrants. Intra-state workers are mainly from Kalaburgi (43%), Yadgir (8%), and Raichur and Ballari (6% each). Workers hailing from rural areas make up 91%. Of the remaining, 8% are from towns and 1% are from the city or urban areas.

Most workers (98%) said they had faced no housing discrimination. Those who did said it was related to language and caste. At the workplace, 25% of the workers had experienced verbal abuse and 24% had experienced physical abuse. Thirteen percent of the workers had experienced discrimination and stigmatisation at work mainly related to language or ethnicity. 

The workers said that the issues they faced due to migration included job insecurity, language and cultural barriers, separation from family, housing issues, exploitative labour practices, caste discrimination, and psychological abuse. Majority of the workers (97%) had no awareness of their legal rights as migrant workers. 

While 45% work eight hours a day, 47% said they work longer than eight hours a day.

“When we go for domestic work we are ready to work for any salary because we just want to make ends meet. This upsets local people because they have to work for lesser salaries. They feel that we take away their jobs,” said Swathi, a 27-year-old migrant worker from Odisha.


The 18% of respondents who said they had debts had borrowed from their employer, bank, agent, personal loan, finance company, relative, chit fund, other known people, or local money lender. Some of the reasons given for taking a loan were personal, medical, marriage, loan repayment, education, to buy a vehicle, to build a house, expenses related to extended family members, house rent, advance for house, or to set up a shop. 

Only 37% said that their children live with them. Most of the workers (97%) said that they faced no difficulty accessing education for their children. The children of 25% of workers attend government schools and 3% attend private schools. 

Even though 98% have Aadhaar cards, 87% of the workers do not have an MGNREGA card, 85% do not have construction workers card, 23% do not have a voter ID, and 61% do not have an eShram card. 

When asked what could make their lives better, some felt that there should be more government schemes that cater to their specific needs, such as ration cards in the state of migration, as well as inclusive behaviour from the workplace and areas of residence. 

“It is lonely to leave our families behind. There are so many stressors of being in a new state, learning the local language and culture. When local people make us feel welcome it helps us to overcome some of our difficulties,” said Hariprasad, who migrated from Bihar and works in a brick factory in Anekal town.

Most of the workers who migrate as unskilled labourers are from marginalised communities who face bleak prospects in their native states. Some of them may face religious or caste-based oppression. Migration offers them some degree of anonymity. However, even after migration they may face different forms of discrimination. It is important that extra efforts are made to make intra-state migration more inclusive and welcoming. Migrant workers should not miss out on social security schemes related to health, housing, food, education, or livelihood as they are often the ones most in need of it. 

India’s labour laws and welfare legislations relating to wages, social security, working conditions, hours of work, equality, employment, and protection from exploitation and occupational hazards should be applicable to the workers who migrate and work in the informal sector. The Inter-state Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) (ISMW) Act (1979) should also be implemented. Poor investment in rural infrastructure, employment, and welfare schemes have aggravated the divide between rural and urban areas in India and have led to an increase in migration from rural to urban areas.

The issues of migrant workers have not received due attention from governments. Based on the findings from this study, the following list of recommendations have been created: 

1. Accurate and up to date documentation/registration of intra-state migrant workers. 

2. Seamless availability of all welfare schemes to the workers in any part of the state, so that intra-state or inter-state migration is not a reason for discrimination or denial of services to the workers. This would specifically include pensions, Integrated Child Development Services Scheme (ICDS), education, nutritional programmes, and public health facilities 

3. Strengthening of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to ensure that people have access to the guarantee of minimum rural employment. The village economy should be strengthened in all forms and the core reason for migration should be addressed. 

4. Comprehensive policy development to document and address the issues faced by people both at the source of migration as well as the destination, within the state. This can include livelihood, nutrition, education, minimum wages, health care, or discrimination, among others. 

5. Education of the seasonal migrants needs to be addressed. Their children should have the opportunity of studying in any nearby government school without being burdened by rigid and bureaucratic admission procedures, which, in fact, become barriers preventing children of migrant workers from accessing education. 

6. The model of social security schemes that has been devised for construction workers should be extended to many other groups like domestic workers, street vendors, auto drivers, etc. 

7. There needs to be a number of welfare boards to address the concerns of labourers belonging to various sectors. 

8. Safety at the workplace needs to be ensured. Grievance redressal and compensation for occupational hazards, and death due to workplace injuries or illness should not be complicated. 

9. There needs to be a legal mechanism to address the issue of harassment, abuse, denial of essential services, etc. at the destination. 

Fr Jerald D'souza SJ is the director of St Joseph’s Law College, Bengaluru.

Fr Kevin Sequeira SJ Director, Centre for Integral Rural Welfare, Anekal. 

Acknowledgements to Dr Sylvia Karpagam for data analysis.

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