Migrant Labour will be a key to Covid2019 hit economic revival

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: The government has permitted manufacturing and other industrial establishments to operate from April 20, but the big question is how will they bridge the gap in labour supply?

A large section of migrant workers engaged in contract labour, e-commerce and logistics operations and other project-related activities — estimated at around 5 crore — have returned to their hometowns. According to hiring experts, most of them are unlikely to come back to work immediately. Moreover, there’s no transport which can bring them back. A section of workers may also get engaged with activities around the harvesting season.

Rituparna Chakraborty, co-founder and executive VP, TeamLease Services, said, “One should not have a dramatic hope that the migrant workers will return soon. In rural India, there is a deeper concern about their safety. They may not come back till the situation eases.”

Aditya Mishra, CEO, CIEL HR Services, said, “Out of the 10,000 people we employ, around 4,000 are in the blue-collared segment of migrants. During this period, we have reached out to thousands of them and the message we get is that their families are concerned about their safety. They are under a lot of stress of staying away from the cities for some time now.” Mishra reckons that the pain for the industry may last 3-4 months till normalcy returns.

Raju B Ketkale, deputy MD, Toyota Kirloskar Motor (TKM), said a lot of labour manpower in the automotive industry, including suppliers, are migratory workers who have moved to their respective home districts. “This is so even in case of TKM, and our suppliers wherein many of our workers have moved to neighbouring districts in Karnataka. We anticipate that such workers may need some time to get back to Bengaluru as inter-district travel is also curtailed during the lockdown. Considering such conditions, the first few days may see fewer numbers of workers turning in to office,” said Ketkale. TKM has two plants, located in Bidadi Industrial Estate (Ramanagara District) near Bengaluru employing over 6,000 people.

An executive with Hero MotoCorp said that the company does not intend to begin production before May 3, the day when the lockdown ends on an official basis. A senior executive at a leading automaker in the Gurgaon-Manesar industrial belt said, “It is not just one factory that we need to take into account. Many of our suppliers are in the containment zones, and it is practically impossible to source from them. How can we have full production in the absence of key components?”

Some organisations are keen on restarting operations with existing labour strength. S Venkatesh, president (group HR), RPG Enterprises, said, “We will start operations partially with whatever labour strength we have, to begin with. We witnessed a flight of labour, but 80% are still with us. Those who have gone back to their native places may not be able to come back in the absence of road and rail networks.”

However, moving to a full production capacity would depend on the labour position. Welspun has most of its manufacturing facilities in rural areas — Anjar, Vapi and Bharuch in Gujarat, and Chandanvelly in Telangana — and a majority of its workforce resides in its own colonies. “When the lockdown was implemented, we were able to hold back our migrant workforce and provided them full support. We would be using the workforce from our own premises,” said Akhil Jindal, CFO & head (strategy), Welspun Group.

The main challenge in restarting production, said Jindal, is bringing people back to work. “Till the lockdown is over, we don’t plan to bring back any employees/workers inter-state. Our goal is to try to run our plants through available workforce in our colonies and nearby residences to avoid risks to our employees/workers,” said Jindal.

“Companies will have to provide incentives to the workers to come back. Suddenly, a job is not a job based on its availability. The supply side is equally important,” said Chakraborty. It is believed that the industry may start tapping into local talent from nearby villages as plan B. This could, however, mean higher costs.

Going forward, Mishra said there could be a change in labour migration patterns. “What’s happened following Covid-19 has shattered the confidence of workers in a big way,” said Mishra.

On the other hand, new age facilities, such as those of ArcelorMittal/Nippon Steel India have high level of automation and hence there is no requirement of labourers to operate the plant. “We have migrant labourers primarily working in housekeeping areas, which are manageable. We are not dependent on migrant labour for operating the plant,” said Anil Matoo, chief people officer, ArcelorMittal/Nippon Steel India.

(Above content has been sourced from a newsfeed. Only the headline has been changed.)

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