MADURAI: Due to a lack of employment opportunities in Rajasthan, West Bengal, Assam, Odisha, and Uttar Pradesh, many persons from these States are moving to the greener pastures in the several districts of Tamil Nadu. How green is the green here, in faraway Tamil Nadu, for the migrant labourers?
On the occasion of International Migrants Day, to commemorate the Universal Declaration of Migrants Rights that was adopted and proclaimed by the General Assembly of United Nations in 2000, a few migrant workers in the construction, hotel and spinning mill industries in Madurai district shared their experiences with Express.
Nithesh (23), who is a cook in a hotel, said, “I belong to a remote village in West Bengal and have been working here for the past three years. Nearly 100 people from our village came here looking for work. We are all illiterate and could not find jobs in our home States.”
How did they land up here in Madurai? “We can cook Chinese items that seem to be in great demand in the hotels in Madurai. There are agents who brought us here. In fact, in every village, there are agents who offer us work outside our home base. They promise to get us jobs that will get us Rs 15,000 a month. Of course, the salary would vary, depending on the work. The agent will receive the salary and deduct 50 per cent as his commission. The arrangement may vary from agent to agent. Basically, there is no connection between the hotel employer and us,” said Nithesh.
About the working conditions, Nitesh said, “From morning till the hotel is closed, we need to remain standing. Every day, I go to home with severe leg pain. I get a maximum of Rs 10,000 as monthly salary. I send Rs 8000 to my parents every month. I use the remaining amount for my expenses in the temple city.”
Accommodation is usually provided by the employer, continued Nithesh. “Those working in the same hotel usually stay in one house together. We are given one month’s leave every year and we go to our native place. Those who work as cleaners and servers get very poor salaries, around Rs 3,000 a month. We don’t get other benefits like Provident Fund, bonus and insurance. Though we have problems of language, discrimination, and poor working conditions, we take the job since it is helping our families get three meals a day.”
Lakshmi (18), a spinning mill worker in Madurai district, said, “I come from a small village in Bihar. I am the first of five daughters. My father was an agriculture daily wage labourer. I don’t have mother. About a year back, my father met with an accident and could not continue working. I took over earning for the family. I could not find any decent job in our village as I am uneducated. Nearly 80 girls in the 15 to 23 age group came here to work.
I came with them. For the past eight months, I have been working here. The company has given us accommodation within the premises. They provide ration rice and some grocery, but they are not of good quality. There is no specific working time. We have to report to work whenever the supervisor calls us. Every month, we get Rs 3,000 as salary. We send Rs 2,000 home. We do not know the exact salary that we get and whether and how much the agents take.”
Sharma (35), a construction worker, had a similar tale to share. “About 1000 workers from Uttar Pradesh came here with our families. We used to stay in a hut near the construction site. There were just no basic facilities. We do all sorts of work. If the employer paid the local labourer Rs 500 a day, we would get only Rs 400. Out of this around Rs 150 would go as commission to the agent,” he narrated.
Speaking to Express, K L Kumar, President, Madurai District Hotels Association, said, “The agents supply labourers from the other states. They are in charge of everything. Nearly 10,000 migrant workers are employed in various positions in Madurai district hotels. We ask for their identity proof and share their details with the local police.
We do not pay any commission to the agent. We hand over the salaries to the agents. Workers give a share to them. Depending on the nature of the work we pay the workers.”
“But there are some other issues. Some mischief making, taking small amounts of cash from the cash counter and so on. If it happens, we approach the agent who arranges for a replacement. The agent takes care even when a worker goes on leave and we need a temporary replacement,” explained Kumar.