KOCHI: Kerala, which has been ahead in the demographic transition in the country, has over the years evolved as one of the most attractive destinations for migrant workers from the rest of India. With unskilled labourers being paid Rs 700 to Rs 800 for a day’s work while the skilled like masons and carpenters earning anything between Rs 1,800 and Rs 2,000, and sure promise of jobs, the state has become a hub for migrants from other states where they are paid a pittance.
And as such, over the years, interstate migrant workers have become an indispensable part of the state’s economy. Almost all economic sectors that require arduous physical labour are dependent on migrant workers. According to an official with the Labour Commissionerate, this has resulted in the evolution of some of the longest labour migration corridors in India connecting the state with Assam, West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in addition to Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
However, the pandemic saw an exodus of labourers in large numbers to their home states. As per official statistics, around 4.5 lakh labourers went back. Now, even as the lockdown restrictions have been lifted, the state is yet to see a big arrival of labourers. If the trouble hiring agencies in the state are facing is any indication, this will adversely affect many industries in the coming days.
“The migrants want to come back,” said Shibin Jose, director, KLR Facility Management Pvt Ltd. “However, the strict Covid-19 protocols here are turning them away. We are losing out to places like Mumbai and Delhi where Covid rules are more lenient,” he said. He said these places too had faced a mass exodus of migrant labourers before and after lockdown. “Now they are trying to attract them back and, for that, are offering wages on a par with what the labourers used to get in Kerala,” said Shibin.
Another trend being seen in the state is that nearly all migrants coming back prefer daily wage jobs to the salaried ones like being a shop assistant. “Mine is a hiring company. We hire staff for big hotels, shopping complexes and textile showrooms. However, after we bring them on buses and flights spending huge sums of money, they just abscond after the mandatory quarantine and tests,” said Shibin.