India: Agricultural and rural workers look to MGNREGA to ensure livelihoods
Rural area faces an unprecedented economic crisis along with the COVID-19 health emergency. Tens of thousands of migrant workers are returning to rural areas at a time, when the rural economy is experiencing massive losses of employment and income.
Agricultural workers and other workers in rural areas are depending on the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to support themselves and their families. MGNREGA is a government program that provides 100 days of paid employment on public works for unemployed rural workers while creating the infrastructure which can generate future income for the community.
Workers can also work on their own land, by which the programme supports small farmers and their families. The program not only provides income but also puts decision-making and funding directly in the hands of village councils, the lowest level of government and supports building the rural economy. MGNREGA is also vital in mitigating the impact of migration and climate change.
MGNREGA provides a safety net for the most vulnerable workers and will help rural households cope with the devastating impact of the lockdown and the COVID-19.
Since work under the MGNREGA resumed in April following the partial lifting lockdown measures, IUF-affiliated unions in the agricultural sector have been assisting their members to get work under the MGNREGA. They are also providing awareness on COVID-19 health and safety guidelines, including distributing masks and maintaining physical distancing to enable safe work on MGNREGA sites.
In Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar hundreds of workers have already gotten work under MGNREGA with monitoring from the unions.
Unions are also demanding:
- An increase in wages to bring the up to a living wage;
- Removal of the limitation of 100 days of work per household annually;
- An increase in the number of work days under the program to 200 days;
- That any individual seeking work be provided a job or given unemployment benefits.