TIRUPPUR: The imposition of new restrictions in Tamil Nadu after the onset of the third wave has triggered fears of a complete lockdown among migrant workers. With Chief Minister MK Stalin expected to review the current curbs on Monday, a section of workers in the textile hub of Tiruppur thronged the railway station on Sunday to leave to their home states.
Twenty-five-year-old Heeram was among the workers leaving, having had bad experiences in 2020 and 2021. “During the first and second lockdowns, I worked at a manufacturing unit in Pune. We were very concerned about the situation as the employer did not bother about us. He only paid us a portion of the salary. With that I went back to Bihar and decided not to return to Maharashtra,” he recalled.
Fearing a similar experience, Heeram is unsure he will return to Tiruppur. “I landed a job at a garment unit in Tiruppur through a friend. For the past eight months, I have received a salary of `10,000 per month. But when the Sunday lockdown was announced, I started fearing the worst. Though my employer is still offering me the full salary, I do not want to return,” he said.
Many migrants haunted by memories of past lockdowns
Some workers clubbed the Sunday lockdown with Pongal holiday to go home but are undecided as to whether they will return. Dheeraj (26), who receives a daily wage of `450, said he’d moved to Tiruppur five months ago. “As the Sunday lockdown coincides with Pongal holidays, we asked our employer permission to travel to our native.
He didn’t stop us and even offered some money as travel expenses. There is no problem in Tiruppur, but we don’t know whether we will return or not,” he said. Thirty-year-old Santhosh agreed with the others. “I came to Tiruppur a few months ago through an employment agency. We were shocked to hear the lockdown announcement. Although my new employer promised to give us food during the lockdown, many of us have decided to return to Bihar,” he said.
Many migrant workers are haunted by the experiences of the earlier lockdowns, said AITUC-Banian Workers Union (Tiruppur) secretary N Sekar. “The lockdown fear has upset the workers. They don’t want to relive problems related to the closure of business units and lack of food, so some of them have already started moving. Workers are also moving out of the Tiruppur for Pongal holidays and the two-day strike.” However, Tiruppur Exporter Association (TEA) Treasurer P Mohan is hopeful that most of the workers will return.
“Workers are the backbone of the garment and textile industry. Being a labour-intensive industry, businessmen and large garment units are aware of the situation of curfew and lockdown, and their effects on migrants. None of the garment units have forced the workers to remain when the Sunday lockdown was announced. Every year, migrants travel home during the Pongal holidays. This time, garment units also announced a two-day strike against increasing yarn prices. We believe they will be returning after the holidays,” he said.
A Southern Railway official said most of the workers were boarding trains to Chennai from which they would get back to their home states. “There are just a few direct trains from Tiruppur to Patna or Odisha. But, there are more than 20 trains between Tiruppur and Chennai. Almost all the workers will be boarding trains to reach Chennai as there are daily trains to various other cities from the capital,” the official said.
Alarmed at the number of migrant workers gathered at the station, health officials said the district and railway police had taken extra precautions. “Around 1,800 swab samples were taken from the workers on Sunday,” an official said.