Mumbai, Jun 5 (PTI) Companies are confident that reverse migration of workers will take place once the situation normalises and the coronavirus lockdown is lifted.
Rising COVID-19 cases sparked an exodus of workers from cities to their home towns. However, many employers are urging the workers to return, and have offered them various incentives.
'In pre-COVID we had more than 2.2 lakh labourers across our almost 950 project sites, but today we have around 1.2 lakh working. While some labourers who had left during Holi have not yet returned, some have left because of psychological pressures may be due to pandemic or seeing others leave.
'Indians are generally self respecting for earning and so we feel once things normalise they will come back. It's a time of another 20-30 days,' Larsen & Toubro CEO and Managing Director S N Subrahmanyan said.
He said the company's factories at Coimbatore, Ahmedabad, Kattupalli and Baroda, among others, have resumed operations and 60-70 per cent of the workers are back. Recently, Bengaluru-based developer Prestige Group reportedly said it plans to fly back migrant labourers from West Bengal and Bihar to Hyderabad to complete the projects which were stalled due to the lockdown.
'Every challenge in business has a different set of reactions from different industry stakeholders; and while migrant labour is definitely needed at construction sites across urban India and the metro cities, the news about someone offering air tickets to woo labour from Bihar to return to construction sites in Hyderabad, to my mind, is not something that real estate as an industry would opt for...
'...but yes, how labour is treated and remunerated for the work they do, these aspects will change for the better,' NAREDCO President (Nation) Niranjan Hiranandani said.
He further said the COVID-19 pandemic has created a 'new normal' and the industry is in the process of changing various paradigms. One important change will be how labour gets treated in the post-COVID world.
Echoing similar views, Knight Frank India Executive Director and Head of Project Management Services Deben Moza said the labourers left because they did not feel safe or felt proper care was not being taken by the contractors.
'But now there will have to be a change in approach by making sure they are provided good accommodation at site as also the facilities including food, hygiene and sanitation as well as the remuneration. These labourers will return, but to a changed scenario of safer and better working conditions,' he added.
An industry expert from the textile sector, which gives direct employment to 100 lakh people, said nearly 40-45 lakh are migrant workers who have gone back to their homes.
'Currently only 40 per cent textile manufacturing units are open, which are functioning with 30-40 per cent capacity. Moreover as demand is not there ther is no need for manufacturing with full capacity and the local workforce are enough to cater to the current situation,' the expert said. He further noted that the migrant workers are highly trained and the companies are in touch with them.
'They are expected to come back by Diwali, by when the industry is expecting the demand to catch up,' the expert added.
According to Gems and Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC) Vice Chairman Colin Shah, in Maharashtra the industry is allowed to manufacture only to fulfil the pending export orders with 10 per cent workforce.
'It is challenging for the manufacturers. Around 40 per cent of the workforce have migrated to their homes. We expect these highly trained artisans to be back in a couple of months when manufacturing will be allowed to be normal by the government.
'We are in regular touch with them. The gems and jewellery (sector) gives employment to 450 lakh people across the country,' he added.
CIEL HR Services Director and CEO Aditya Narayan Mishra noted that about 20 per cent of the migrant workers have gone back to their home towns/ villages.
'Though economic activities have restarted in some cities and industry sectors, the employers do not see the demand back to normal levels; moreover, there are restrictions on the number of people who can work at any point of time.
'So, they do not need all their workers back at work. We do not think, at a macro level, workers having left the cities are going to negatively impact production,' he said.
Mishra further said most of these migrant workers would get back to cities in the next 8-12 weeks as they realise the low productivity of the farm sector.
'Some companies have a large percentage of workforce composed of migrant workers. Those have already started suffering from labour shortage. They are trying to source workers from the local talent pool. However, it is not easy to replenish a large part of the workforce by fresh hires from the local talent pool.
'Sectors impacted by the migrant labour crisis are construction, manufacturing and logistics,' he added.
Wadhwa Group Director-Projects Mukesh Jaitley said safety of construction workers will remain the utmost priority. 'Our contractors are in constant touch with our labour contractors. If the labourers are willing to come back, we can also take care of their transportation cost. Once they return back, we will mandatorily have them registered under the BOCW Act (Building and Other Constructions Workers Act).
'We will also assure them daily wages in spite of heavy rains or other natural calamities during the monsoon. We will be doubly ensuring that proper precautions are taken from our end so that they can restart their life without taking much stress,' he added. PTI PSK SM ABM ABM