Agami Prize

Aajeevika Bureau

Enabling migrant workers to access legal services

Currently, there are over 140-150 million people internally migrating in India. Around 93% of India’s workforce is constituted of informal and migrant workers. Almost 70% of informal workers suffer significant disputes relating to bondage, child labor, sexual harassment, physical abuse, and non-payment of wages and entitlements. Lack of bargaining power, legal awareness, informal work arrangements, and lack of documentation affect their ability to access formal dispute resolution platforms. This leads to abysmally low reporting rates under the current system.

LEAD provides comprehensive legal support to migrant workers in Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra. They recognised the pattern of internal migration movement from Rajasthan to Gujarat and Maharashtra, and established around 20 LEAD Cells in these three states.

They provide pre-migration legal counselling to workers at pre-identified ‘source’ centers of migration in Rajasthan. Legal literacy is conducted in a simple FAQ format and are simplified through videos as well. They also provide an attendance diary to these workers in which the workers can make a note of time spent on work, overtime, advance paid, and such other details. This attendance diary serves as evidence for workers during disputes because they are often left to challenge these disputes with no documentation. They have also launched a labour helpline number for workers to reach out to. The helpline is now funded by the State of Rajasthan; and is run in collaboration with them.

LEAD Cell leverages mediation as an effective tool to settle disputes as they arise. Employers tend to participate in these mediation processes as the burden of proof in formal systems is on them and they rarely maintain proper documentation. Where needed, the LEAD Cell activates formal mechanisms such as court, police, human right authorities, etc.

LEAD Cell centres function with the support of staff, along with 50-60 paralegals from within the community and over 20+ empanelled lawyers to assist them when needed.

As of August 2018, they registered 12,043 cases that involve over 74,000 workers. They have resolved 6,653 cases so far, and 5% of these cases go to litigation. Through dispute settlement, they enabled more than INR 16 crores in wages to be recovered. They also work with state governments on policy reform.

Rajiv Khandelwal and Krishnavatar Sharma are co-founders of Aajeevika Bureau. Santosh Poonia heads the LEAD initiative.