November 19, 2020 3:39:09 am
Migrant workers, who had left Pune owing to the Covid-induced lockdown, have returned to the district only to find a scarcity of jobs. Chandan Kumar, national coordinator at the Working Peoples’ Charter, said the few workers who have managed to retain their jobs have found that their salaries have been reduced, with government aid being deemed woefully inadequate.
The inception of the Covid-induced lockdown had highlighted the difficulties faced by migrant labourers even as they resorted to desperate means to return to their home states. As construction sites and industrial units closed down almost overnight, innumerable workers suddenly found themselves without a job. With dwindling savings in hand, they had decided to go back to their home states. Hailing primarily from Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal, many had taken to walk back to their villages as train and bus services had also come to a halt. It is estimated that over two lakh workers had left Pune district at the beginning of the lockdown.
As part of the state government’s ‘Mission Begin Again’, industries were allowed to resume operations which had signaled the gradual return of the workers. However, Kumar, whose organisation has been closely working on labour issues, said that the percentage of workers who have returned varies on a sectoral basis.
Around 50-60 percent of the workers associated with the construction sector have come back, while 30-40 percent of those who were previously employed in small and medium-scale industries have returned to their previous places of residence. “Around 60 per cent of the workers who work as daily wage earners have now returned,” he added. Kumar foresees a larger share of workers returning by the end of November, once the festival of Chhat Puja concludes in Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh.
However, workers who have returned are struggling to make ends meet. “In Pune, around 10 percent of the total workforce are with the organised sector, while the vast majority are with the unorganised sector. Our surveys show that the ones who were with the organised sector have got back their jobs, but the others are yet to find any kind of employment,” he said. As working capital has dried up for the industrial sector, even those who managed to get their jobs back are left with no choice but to work at reduced salaries.
The migrant labour crisis had seen the state and the Central governments discussing labour reforms and social security benefits for the sector, but Kumar claimed that such aid has been completely absent. “Even after the crises has come out on the streets. we have not found any registration drives or any means of providing social security to the sector,” he said.
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