Faced with acute labour shortage, industry owners woo migrants with better wages, sopsUpdated: Jun 08, 2020, 23:40 IST
Industries in Gurugram and Manesar, which are struggling due to a shortage of labourers, are trying hard to reach out to migrant workers to facilitate their early return. At least 60-70% of the workers have returned to their home towns due to the fear of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.
Their absence is forcing some garment exporters to pay higher daily wages to skilled craftsmen, while some others are making calls to their contractors in the villages, promising them better wages and free travel, among other concessions. The real estate developers, who are stuck with ongoing projects, are even ready to pay money in advance, rail tickets, but are still finding it hard to reverse the flow. The market rate for agricultural wages has also gone up due to a shortage of workers, say landowners. The automobile sector, however, is in a comparatively better situation, say vendors. This is because the demand for production is less and the sector has seen relatively fewer migrants return to their home towns.
Around 6 to 7 lakh migrant workers in Gurugram, who worked in different sectors, have left the district since the start of the year when the coronavirus pandemic started to make an impact, say local trade union leaders. Due to the large scale migration, the factories in Udyog Vihar, which have resumed operations, are finding it difficult to resume full-scale production. They are being forced to hire labour locally at higher wages or contacting those who have gone home to return as early as possible.
The paucity of labour is such that in most of the 1,900 industrial units that have resumed operations are functioning at 40 to 50% of their full capacity, said the Gurugram district administration officials on Monday. “The units which have more than 1,000 workers are mostly operational but the major impact is on export-oriented units where 100 to 200 workers are employed. As of now, only 50% of these units have become operational,” said the labour department officials. As on Monday, only 1.10 lakh labourers have returned to work in the automobile, garment manufacturing and exports, and other industries across the state, they added.
Satyender Singh, general manager, East-West Exports, a garment export unit based in Udyog Vihar, says that the majority of units are working with 30% of the staff as workers are not available. “Large companies, which have the financial muscle, are now hiring workers on a daily basis and paying them higher than the normal wages. In normal times, ₹360 to ₹400 was paid to a tailor. Now the market rate is ₹400 to ₹450 and money is being paid daily,” he said, adding that in such a scenario, workers are leaving smaller firms and opting to work as daily wagers for larger firms as the money is paid daily in the evening.
As per the garment exporters, a large number of companies have either prior orders or have received new orders from Europe that have to be fulfilled on a priority basis. The season in Europe is around August and September and if we don’t work now these orders will get wasted. We are, therefore, contacting our workers to return to work as early as possible. The industry owners are ready to pay for tickets, advance cash and provide for other facilities,” said Manmohan Gaind, vice president, Manesar Industries Welfare Association.
Across the National Capital Region(NCR), the labour situation is precarious says Dr Manipadma Datta, vice-chancellor, TERI School of Advanced Studies and the head of the department of business sustainability. “The NCR is staring at a major manpower crisis, which will impact the business in the long run. All stakeholders need to win back the confidence of workers, who need empathy, support and help. They will not return soon and it would be difficult to fill the shop floors,” he said.
The situation in the real estate sector, which is one of the largest employers and revenue generators in Gurugram, is equally dire as only 21,000 workers, out of an average of 2.5 to 3 lakh workers, are reported to have returned to work on 96 active construction sites, the district administration said.
Real estate developers say that at any given time 2.5 to 3 lakh workers are engaged in construction activities and migration has had a major dampening impact on the trade. “We are trying to contact workers through labour contractors, calling them directly and have offered them various concessions. However, only a few of them have responded positively,” said Praveen Jain, vice chairman, National Real Estate Development Council(Nardeco), Haryana, adding that extension of project deadlines by six months needs to be further pushed back by six months.
Another developer, who wished not to be named, said that they have approached labour contractors with offers of free rail tickets, air tickets and higher wages but the contractors say that the workers re reluctant to return. “There is fear among the workers as the situation is still fluid and there is no clarity as to how long will the pandemic continue,” he said.
Rajender Saroha, joint secretary, Bhawan Nirman Kamgaar Union, who has been actively engaged with workers, says that workforce in the construction sector is feeling abandoned as not many real estate developers took care of them during the lockdown. “Workers are economically and emotionally hurt and will not return soon,” he said.
As compared to garment and realty sectors, the automobile sector is faring relatively better, says Ashok Kohli, president, Chamber of Industries, Udyog Vihar. “The auto companies are larger in size and more organised so these were able to retain workers and the demand for labour in this sector is also less as production targets are lower,” he said.
In the automobile segment, the labour department said that around 40% labour has returned to work and the situation is likely to improve in the coming days as demand for cars, motorcycles and other such products improves.
A vendor, who works for a carmaker, said that they expect the production process to be ramped up in the coming months and likewise the demand for workers will rise. “Right now the auto vendors are comfortable with the present strength as a fewer number of cars and bikes are being produced,” he said, preferring anonymity.
The migration of agricultural workers to their home states has made the work of paddy transplantation and sowing of vegetables difficult for the coming season. Deen Mohammed, district horticulture officer, Nuh (an area known for its vegetable production), said that cost of labour has doubled as workers have left. This will impact farm operations in a big way. “Many farmers are leaving their fields fallow. Some are choosing to plant mustard instead of vegetables. This will reduce production and increase the price of vegetables in the coming months,” he said.
Satish Yadav, a progressive farmer from village Mankdola, echoed his views and said that almost all farmworkers have left barring those who are permanently employed. “The sowing of paddy crop is going to take a hit across the state and other farm operations will also get affected. The cost of labour has also risen and this will impact farming,” he said.
The farmers are now waiting for the situation to return to normalcy as they neither have any agency nor the reach to call back the seasonal farm labourers. “Some of the farmers have tried to reach out to the labourers but nothing concrete has come out of it,” said Yadav.