Every morning, hundreds of daily-wage workers from in and around Vile Parle gather at the Mazdoor naka near the railway station, waiting for contractors to hire them for the day. Since mid-November, the labourers, many of them migrants, are finding it increasingly hard to find employment.
“Work is not progressing at construction sites owing to the cash crunch. So there aren’t many contractors coming to the naka. Earlier, by around 10 am, almost all of us would be taken for work. But now, we just wait here till midday and then go back to our rooms,” says Anil Kumar Singh, who has been unemployed for over 20 days now.
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The slump in the work market is driving many of the migrants back to their villages.
“After not getting a job for days on end, many of my co-workers have gone back. While we aren’t earning anything here, we have to pay for our living expenses,” says Radheysham Mandal, who has been working in the city for over a decade now.
Zaheer Qureshi owns a small zari-work unit in Shivaji Nagar. He has a bank account, but the Rs 20,000 per week cap on withdrawal has forced him to let go three workers. “I have 10 workers under me who I pay up to Rs 5,000 per week. In Rs 20,000 I cannot pay all of them,” Qureshi says. Zahid Shaikh (43), also a zari worker in Govandi, went back to his village in Darbhanga, Bihar, after demonetisation.
He worked on Road number 6 in Govandi in a small zari unit, earning Rs 3,000 per week. He had no bank account and was paid in old notes by his employer even after the demonetisation announcement. He also had Rs 10,000 in cash with him.
“He returned back to Bihar with all that money. He said he’ll wait until the situation here improves,” said Harish Singh, a local National Aids Control Organisation counsellor in Govandi. Singh claims the regular screening for HIV too has taken a hit because of demonetisation.
“The contractors would pay us with old notes, saying that was all they had. Not having an option, sometimes, we were forced to accept them,” says Ram Mandal, one of the daily wagers at the mazdoor naka. “As if being unemployed is not bad enough, we have to stand in long queues to exchange old notes or to withdraw money. We lose our work time in this,” he adds.
The new Rs 2000 note adds to their troubles. “It is very difficult to get change for Rs-2,000 notes. Some people offer to give us change, but ask for a Rs-200 commission. We have to pay bribes to exchange our own money,” he says.
Sending money to their families back in their villages also has become a difficulty. Bank rules now mandate written permission from account holders to deposit money into their accounts, which the family members of these workers cannot provide.
Some overcame this difficulty by depositing money into their own account and allowing family members to withdraw from it. But even that had its own set of problems. “We have very few banks back in our villages. Those few have long queues before them. After getting through that queue, all people get are Rs 2000,” says Raja Kumar, a who hails from Bihar.