Another migrant crisis looms in TN as industrial units hit by Covid again

After its first stint, Covid has now returned stronger than ever. Express holds a mirror to the distress thevirus has caused among different sections
Migrant workers rushing to board a train to their native at the Coimbatore railway station | U Rak esh Kumar
Migrant workers rushing to board a train to their native at the Coimbatore railway station | U Rak esh Kumar

COIMBATORE/TIRUPPUR: Even as the country stares at another migrant exodus, thanks to the gigantic second wave of the pandemic, migrant workers employed at the industrial units in Coimbatore and Tiruppur worry that the distress they faced last year might return. While a section of them are travelling back to their hometowns, a few others are willing to stay back.

But what’s keeping them from going? For 25-year-old Ragu Narayan from Odisha, who works at a unit in Coimbatore, staying back means saving a lot of money instead of breaking his savings on travel. “My company is providing food and accommodation,” said Narayan. Similar is the case with C Kumar from Bihar. His family and children are back at his native while he toils hard at a unit here to save enough money for them. He worries the travel might just eat up all of his hardearned money. “My friends have gone back following the surge in cases,” said Kumar.

But, the pandemic doesn’t seem to be the only reason for employers to worry about. R Surendran, president of the Electrical and Electronics Industrial Estate Entrepreneurs’ Association, said they have tried enough to convince workers to stay back but to no avail. “About 13 people went home and it led to the scaling down of production. They are the same set who left from Coimbatore last year. Now, we have to shell out a bomb to bring them back by airplane after a few days,” Surendran added.

The year 2020 has left behind scars in the mind of 32-year-old Ajay Kumar. “About 30 of us were left without food and grocery during the first wave. We got our jobs back in August only when relaxations kicked in. Although my family and I went home in November, we returned the next month. But now, with the rapid spread of infection, we are afraid of such a situation repeating.

A few friends have already left and we will soon decide, either to stay here or move back.” J James, president of TN Association of Cottage and Tiny Enterprises, said they have been convincing workers to stay back by assuring that the units would continue to pay them if such a situation comes. They also promised food and accommodation facilities. AITUC-Banian Workers’ Union (Tiruppur) secretary, N Sekar, said, “Many still have reminiscences of the first wave and lockdown. I believe around 10 per cent of the workforce will move to its natives if there is another lockdown.”

All said and done, there are a few who believe that there is no much panic among the migrant workers. Tiruppur Exporters’ Association (TEA) treasurer, P Mohan, said, “Though there is a widespread fear of the second wave, the effect is not much in the garment industry. The association, along with garment owners, have ensured that health procedures are strictly implemented among the workers. Besides, we create awareness programmes and talk about the impact of the second wave.”

According to sources, there are over 2.5 lakh migrants employed at various garment and industrial units in Tiruppur district. Most of them hail from Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, and Assam.

And it has begun...
About 1,000 to 1,200 workers from UP, Maharashtra, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, and WB, employed in Coimbatore, have returned since the first week of April, say sources

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