Laborline - solving for key vulnerabilities for migrant workers in India
Context: As a worker in the organised sector, we are used to the joy of getting our salary deposited to our banks like clockwork at the end of every month. We also have benefits ranging from health, pension to paid vacations. If we don't get those benefits, there are structured ways and processes (dedicated HR teams, committees, etc) to raise a grievance and get paid. This is life as a worker in the formal organised sector in India.
Have you wondered what it must be like to be a daily wage earner? Or a street vendor? Or a small and marginal farmer depending on a good monsoon to earn their livelihood? This is the other India. The India of the unorganised / informal sector. Employment in the informal sector is characterised by seasonality of employment, scattered workplace, no employer-employee relationship, poor working conditions, irregular and often long working hours, low-productivity and poor earnings, exposed to various forms of insecurity and health hazards, limited access to credit, legal protection and government support and lack of social security.
Wouldn't it be nice if they also had a platform to share their grievances and help get paid? Or get access to their rightful benefits?
We ended up helping to design and deliver just that. Here is how we did it -
In 2020, our friends from Azim Premji Foundation, Aajeevika Bureau and Working Peoples' Charter (WPC) approached T4G Labs to help build a digital platform that will aid in “Mediation and Legal Aid for Informal Workers” in India. The pandemic made it difficult for trade unions and groups like Ajeevika and WPC to deliver support to these workers in distress in person. Lockdowns meant migrant workers were facing extraordinary hardships and needed urgent and important help.
The corporate world migrated swiftly from office to remote work thanks to digital infrastructures like Zoom, Slack and Shared docs. What about NGOs, Trade Unions who go to the field to solve the problems of workers? How do we enable them to deliver their support remotely?
We started by putting together our stakeholders.
The next step was to start co-designing the solution by conducting multiple workshops & discussions with different stakeholders which included Field teams from our main partners - Aajeevika Bureau,Working People’s Charter, Representatives from Trade Unions who were part of the Network being weaved by our main partners, funders like Azim Premji Foundation. We built on the collective wisdom of those who were directly involved in mediations and dispute resolutions between the migrant workers and employers/contractors. Inputs from other stakeholders like the legal aid workers, lawyers and individuals in distress further helped identify the pain points and design what a solution could look like.
We were all clear that the platform must be designed keeping the migrant worker in distress at the centre. And as a design principle - we should design what is best for the worker in distress. This gave us clarity while choosing features, design, and interactions as we moved forward.
The next step - identifying what are the key benefits that we need from this platform. We collectively mapped out the benefits and then filled out the relevant features that will be required to deliver those benefits. Without this, we would have jumped right to the tools/technology without spending enough time to clearly imagine “what we need?” vs “what we want”.
This helped the collective to agree on design for a simple societal platform to start.
We collectively decided to start the delivery by prototyping a Basic Workflow to deliver the following 2 key interactions:
- Worker in distress calls the toll free number
- Tele-Counsellor records the details of the worker and the issue in a browser based platform, provides immediate support on call (if applicable) and/or collaborates with stakeholders (worker, employer, field agent) to reach a resolution
The above is a brief version. You can go through the detailed requirements we collectively gathered across multiple workshops and interactions here.
Ensuring Short term Financial Sustainability for the project - We helped Ajeevika put together a technology component to their Grant Proposal to the Funder. This is an important step to build more support from funders for technology interventions and to ensure sustainability of the project.
Once the funding came through, we approached the team at ERPNext which is a free and open-source integrated Enterprise Resource Planning software and Exotel, a cloud telephony platform and engaged with them to design and put together the final platform. The team at fossunited.org provided support with building the digital platform. We were amazed at how easy it was to build and deliver the benefits we needed through ERPNext.
(When a migrant worker calls, the tele counsellor is directly taken to this Call log page on the custom ERPNext instance)
(Tele counsellor, field worker can update the case details directly, collaborate with others and track progress)
And with just 1 click they can convert the case form to a PDF with the lead CSO logo and details. This can then be sent to the Employer/Contractor on Whatsapp to create urgency and show diligence. This is also helpful if the medication goes to a legal battle.
(A small excerpt from the generated PDF)
But hey, just because gmail is free & easy doesn't mean everyone will write amazing emails, right? So once we had the platform ready - T4G Labs team trained tele counsellors on everything from exotel cloud telephony to updating the ERPNext instance. We brought in a Tech implementor (Akhilam Inc) and built the capacity of their internal team to manage the technology and collaborative aspects of the platform.
Today a partner NGO, Trade Union, could easily be an account on Laborline’s custom ERPNext instance on Frappe Framework and they will be immediately given a cloud telephone number that they can use to take calls from workers in distress. They can take these calls from their mobile phone from anywhere in India and update the case details on an easy to use interface provided by Laborline
As of 15th April, 2022 - Labourline is fully independent of our day to day support on the digital infrastructure. We provide advisory support to them as/when needed. The Working People’s Charter and Aajeevika Bureau launched the National Helpline for workers on September 18, 2021. The helpline, known as the India Labourline, has been operational since July 16, 2021 and is headquartered in Mumbai. As of 15th April, 2022 the helpline has reached 25,000 migrant workers, solved 788 cases of unpaid wages and helped recover INR 1.1 Crore in wages. These calls have come from states like Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Jammu Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Telangana and Tamil Nadu.
We at T4G Labs are honoured to have served such an important and urgent need. All credit goes to WPC, Aajeevika and their partner organisations for allowing us to be a part of this. A big thank you to the FOSS United team (esp Vishal, Kailash & Rushabh) for supporting us with technology, money, hosting waivers and the team at Exotel for telephony discounts.
We realised that we were not helping put together just a digital platform but we were helping design & deliver a Collective for Good (a part of it being Laborline) that specialises in bringing society and technology together to solve for key vulnerabilities (Livelihood in this case) of migrants in India. We are confident that the steering team will scale the mediation line to reach more and more migrant workers, and build collaboration with more grassroots organisations.