KOCHI: Even as the state is coming out of the lockdown, with businesses and commercial establishments resuming operations, for many industries, the future looks bleak. For the construction industry, this slowdown is being caused by shortage of labour and raw materials.According to the District Labour Office, of the 86,000 migrant labourers in the district, 46,000 have returned to their states via Shramik special trains alone.
Construction contractors in the city claim that only migrant workers who have guaranteed jobs awaiting them are choosing to return to Kerala due to the uncertainties brought about by the pandemic. Fake news being circulated among them regarding an impending flood in the state is also adding to the confusion.
The manpower shortage has hit medium and small scale construction firms the most. Establishments with less than 100 labourers working under them on contract or daily wage basis say that workers are returning to their states, even as restrictions are being lifted.
“Construction activities came to a standstill during the lockdown, which had rendered the workers jobless for almost two months. The situation prompted many of them to register to go back home. Now, though activities have resumed, workers are choosing to go back home on Shramik trains. This makes it difficult to complete ongoing projects and take up new ones,” said architect Sham of Repair Kochi, offering renovation services.
“At the same time, many of our labourers who went to native places before the lockdown are willing to come back. The shortage of institutional quarantine facilities makes it difficult to bring back these workers,” added Sham.According to M V Issac, who runs a city based construction firm, there is a shortage of skilled workers. “Almost 90 percent of my workers have left for their natives places during and after the lockdown, even though all their basic needs were taken care of. Misunderstandings and fake news circulating among them is contributing to this,” he says.
Since the workflow is yet to return to normalcy, many are making do with the labour on hand. “The current pace of work makes the labour shortage manageable. We are also adopting less labour intensive work methods such as use of ready mix concrete. We are optimistic that migrant workers will return to Kerala in the coming months, since prospects of employment in their native places is close to nothing,” said Sanju M M,MD of iDfix Builders.
“The construction sector in Kerala is heavily dependent on skilled migrant workers. A possibility of the pandemic outbreak in rural areas in the coming months, dims the chances of these workers returning to Kerala,” said Benoy Peter, director, Center for Migration and Inclusive development.