With the pick-up in demand for Indian handicrafts in Western markets, exporters are faced with manpower shortages at a time when they are rushing against time to ship their Christmas orders.
"At this hour, we are facing crisis of labour. If today we have orders, we don't have labour," Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH) Chairman Raj Kumar Malhotra told PTI.
The demand for artisans has picked up in almost all the handicraft hubs, such as Moradabad, Jodhpur, Panipat and Aligarh, he said.
He said the government should change the labour laws, allowing it to work overtime. As per the existing laws, a worker can not be asked to work extra, even if he wants to and is compensated, beyond 50 hours in three months.
Malhotra, who is also a member of the Board of Trade in the Commerce Ministry, said the government wants the industry to increase the head count.
"If we increase the labour, we need infrastructure as well. We need regular flow of business," he said. Handicraft export is a seasonal business and orders keep fluctuating.
Malhotra said even if the government does not want to give a "hire and fire" right to the industry, it should allow it flexibility in terms of increasing the working shift to 10 hours from eight hours.
With the revival in demand for artefacts in the US and European stores, Indian handicraft exporters have received a large number of Christmas orders, which have to be executed months before the festival season.
"We have got better orders for Christmas... The shipments will leave by July," the EPCH Chief said.
He said the inventory levels in big stores have almost depleted. "The stores have become empty," he said.
The EPCH expects a 15-20 per cent improvement in the export of handicrafts in the current fiscal.
India's handicraft exports aggregated to $ 1.83 billion (Rs 8,718.94 crore) in 2009-10, translating into a small increase of 1.80 per cent over the previous year.
Employing seven million artisans, India has a rich bouquet of handmade artefacts to offer to the world, including artmetal wares, woodwares, handprinted textiles and scarves, embroidered and crocheted goods, zari and zari goods and imitation jewellery.
The highly employment-oriented sector came under severe pressure due to the recession in the US and several European countries in the second half of the 2008-09 fiscal. As a result, exports had plunged by over 48 per cent to $ 1.79 billion in 2008-09.
The US accounts for 30 per cent of the global market for Indian handicraft products.