Flight of labour: Covid resurgence triggers fear of another exodus of migrant workforce

AM Jigeesh New Delhi | Updated on April 12, 2021

Migrant labourers of Mundaka Industrial area, New Delhi, starting back to Lucknow after announcement of night curfew   -  KAMAL NARANG

Companies and trade unions gird up with preventive strategies

A steep surge in Covid-19 cases and fears of lockdowns have triggered worries of another exodus of migrant workforce from cities. Companies say they are already seeing the trend in Maharashtra. Many are girding up with preventive strategies to avoid a repeat of last year. Trade unions, which cite increase in unemployment as a factor in the second wave of reverse migration, plan to go into a huddle to draw up a joint strategy.

Kamal Nandi, Business Head & Executive Vice-President of Godrej Appliances, said the reverse migration trend is already being seen in Maharashtra. “About 25-30 per cent contractual labour has migrated back to their hometowns. If other States also get into stricter lockdowns, the intensity of the reverse migration will increase but so far we are seeing an impact more in Maharashtra,” he said.


Mayank Shah, Senior Category Head, Parle Products, said some reverse migration is happening but it’s not as severe as last year. “It’s more predominant in Maharashtra and Gujarat and not so much in other States,” he said.

Many sectors badly hit

However, Hind Mazdoor Sabha president Harbhajan Singh Sidhu said the second wave of exodus is not just because of Covid-19. “Urban unemployment is a contributing factor. Sectors like textiles and automobiles have been hit badly resulting in job and wage losses. We had placed a number of suggestions before the Centre. But the Centre has ignored them, and instead imposed labour codes on workers. It is the Centre’s policy that is playing villain here,” he said.

Central trade unions in the Opposition will sit together this week to form a joint strategy on the fresh exodus. They have started campaigns among workers on health etiquettes and against the policies of the governments. There are concerns about the impact on the economy if another lockdown is imposed as rural unemployment has also increased in the pandemic period.

Senior Research Analyst with the Indian School of Business Sridhar Kundu said the unemployment rate has gone up to 7.24 per cent in March from 6.9 per cent in February.

Vaccination, the key

Pro-government trade union Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh said vaccination could be a solution. “Migrant workers should get vaccination. Our suggestion to the Centre is that they must support MSMEs so that rural unemployment is under control,” said BMS general secretary Binay Kumar Sinha.

In the automobile sector, some companies have already pledged to get employees vaccinated. “Certain districts in Maharashtra are also trying to evaluate whether industry-belt vaccination can be done and the private sector is also participating in it. So, why would a migrant go back if his company is giving vaccines?” said Deepak Jain, President, Automotive Component Manufacturers Association of India.

with inputs from Meenakshi Verma Ambwani, Ronendra Singh, Monika Yadav, Mamuni Das

Published on April 12, 2021

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