Vijay Gopal, a goldsmith at one of India's leading branded jewellery manufacturing unit in Coimbatore, lost his job last month. “Since last three decades I was working in this market and never felt the need to learn any other skill. I am clueless on how I will feed my family of six,” said Gopal.
Gopal is not alone.
The government’s move to tighten the screws on gold imports, and the decision by major jewellers such as Tata Group's Tanishq, TBZ, Geetanjali Jems and others to curb gold sales, have caused some collateral damage: a cloud over the future of industry workers.
According to industry estimates, as many as 500,000 artisans, craftsmen and salesmen have lost their jobs since June. And if the trend continues, thousands more may join their ranks.
“Due to the shortage of gold in the market, the fear of job loss looms large,” said K Srinivasan, managing director, Emerald Jewel Industry India Ltd.
“Over 50% of the workforce (approximately a million workers) could lose their jobs if the government’s decision to discourage import continues,” said Ashok Minawala of the All India Gems and Jewellery Trade Federation.
Mrityunjay Sarangi, secretary, ministry of labour, refused to comment on the issue.
Moreover, a large number of employees are emplyed in this industry on a contractual basis.
According to the industry body, over 20 lakh goldsmiths engaged with the manufacturing units are sitting idle, though they are still employed on paper. These goldsmiths used to earn around Rs 20,000 per month.
The forced austerity in gold consumption is aimed at helping the government keep the current account deficit under check.
The plummeting demand and sales curbs have pushed retailers and manufacturers to slash headcounts. “We have lost half a million workers already,” said Mehul Choksi, MD, Gitanjali Gems.
“There is a sense of fear and pessimism in the market,” said Sandeep Kulhalli, vice-president, retail and marketing, Tanishq.