Labour contractor Mange Ram, 47, is seriously considering changing his profession. He wants to start selling vegetables or groceries instead.
For the last 11 years, Ram has been supplying temporary workers to Ludhiana's hosiery and knitwear manufacturers, whose products have penetrated markets across the world, earning around Rs 1,700 crore of foreign exchange annually.
“I haven’t earned a paisa in the last three months,” Ram reveals. “No one wants additional workers.”
The demand for labour usually shoots up at this time of the year, since orders from abroad — especially for woolens — rise dramatically in winter. “But this year some units have told me that some of the men I supplied will be laid off,” says Ram.
All these years did not bother to track the dollar-rupee rate. Now, he has subscribed to a Hindi newspaper to do so, and follow news relating to the worldwide economic downturn closely.
Ludhiana's hosiery manufacturers and exporters have already lost 20 to 30 per cent of their business due to the economic meltdown in the United States, but fear the situation will grow even worse in the coming months. “Orders were already lower than before,” says Raj Awasthi, chairman of Sports King, a leading hosiery brand, “but in the past fortnight, cancellations of earlier orders have also begun. If this goes on for another fortnight, we will touch our lowest ebb.”
“All units, specially those manufacturing yarn, have shelved their expansion plans,” says Ajit Lakra, President, Ludhiana Knitwear Association. For instance, Arti Spinning Mills, a leading player, recently put on hold its plan to buy 50,000 more spindles.
“Exporters are even selling at discounts of 30 to 35 per cent,” says AK Walia, regional director, Apparel Export Promotion Council. “Buyers who have placed orders refuse to accept the goods when they arrive, and it costs too much to ship the stuff back to India.”
The hardest hit are the workers — mostly migrants from Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh. Hundreds of such migrant workers are camping in Ludhiana's railway station these days, the optimistic using it as a base to look for new jobs, the pessimistic waiting to catch a train back home.
“Last week I was told my job at the spinning mill would last only till the first week of November. Luckily I’ve found a job with a tea vendor outside the railway station, though it pays far less,” says Ram Narayan Yadav, who came here from Bihar's Chhapra district. He’d rather live on hope — and free chai — till matters improve.