Work is worship: but for whom? As migrants flee, a labour crisis looms!

By Gurbir Singh, in New Indian Express, 24th May 2020 08. Hundreds of similar small and medium enterprises all across the country are staring at an extreme shortage of skilled labour.  amit bandre WORK IS WORSHIP!, but for whom? For those who believe, God created man with the basic duty to live by the “sweat of his brow!’ and “those who don’t work shouoldn’t eat!”, but not for those who preach it and do no work or sweat. 

Leave them out of this discussion because it is now established they are irreformable and irredeemable as a class! They make up the Church of Constantine from the 4th century to this day in spite of Vatican II, in spite of the fact there are also shining examples of Work is worship. 

Bonded & ready to work

Here we are discussing and the article below is discussing the miserable plight of Migrant Labour force of India, also euphemistically called “Adhidi workers” or Unorganized workers, domestic helpers or bonded labourers” who are too ready to work without time limit just to earn their daily bread for any pittance offered, but left high and dry without work, and so are on the WAY, on high ways and by-ways, as they have no home, shelter, money or food. Just recall Jesus the itinerant homeless guru, who called himself the WAY! 

These workers had once left what was their poor jobless State in search of greener pastors. And Lo and behold, to add to their miseries the devouring PANDEMIC GOVID has appeared on the scene like the saying: “one struck  by lightning is bitten by snake” and no one to look up to for help! 

Minimum Wage Law

It is in this context we appeal to all our readers to suggest ways and means to get our  Indian government pass a Minimum Wage rule – say Rs. 300 to 500 for 8 hours of work —  for the entire working class, especially for those at the lowest rungs of society. These are actually the sustainers of the Indian economy. 

To achieve this we, you and I, individuals have to spread this message to neighbors, groups, communities around to become a taking point and moral force exerting pressure on the rulers of the country to legislate and enforce a “Minimum wage” rule for the whole country.  

Each one of us have to change ourselves first to become infectious to change others and the country. Become a practioner yourself of “Work is worship”  to change your home to this ideal, and the rest will follow in due course, slowly but surely! james kottoor, editor ccv. 

Please read below Express News Service

The owner of a small potato wafers unit in Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum pocket in Mumbai, does not know how to get his unit started even though he has permission. His entire workforce of around 40 has walked out on him without notice. And why not?  

They had no  stake in this coronavirus-blighted city, not even a rented hut in Dharavi. They stayed as ‘guests’ on daily wages in the mezzanine floor of the small scale unit. Presumably, they have all gone back to their villages. The question bothering the owner now is: where does he get trained workers from at short notice?  

Hundreds of similar small and medium enterprises (SMEs) all over the country, and big ones too, are facing the same crisis. Labour seems to have disappeared. When the lockdown became operative on March 25, no one had imagined the migrants’ crisis. For the last two months, a human tragedy of unspeakable proportions has played out — millions upon millions fleeing the cities to get to the safety of their ancestral homes thousands of miles away. 

They are on foot, on cattle carts, on autos and more lately on ‘Shramik Special’ trains. They are dying of hunger, of accidents. But for now they don’t care; only so long they can get ‘home’. These are the people who lived below the radar, in slums and hovels in cities; but who manned construction sites and 12-hour sweat shops. Without them, industrial units cannot crank up again.

Humongous numbers,

Unlike most economies, migrant labour numbers in India are humongous., the data analysis site, estimates that over the next few weeks and months, rural India will be expected to absorb 23 million interstate and intrastate migrants coming home from cities and industrial centers. About 25 per cent of the migrant workforce in the country is from UP, while Bihar contributes 14 per cent. The UP government estimates about 2 million migrants have returned home, and another one million are expected back in the next few weeks. 

Certain industries and industrial townships had developed a symbiotic relationship with specific communities of migrants. There are, for example, eight lakh Odia workers in Surat alone, employed in the massive artificial silk weaving  industry of the city. Large numbers of them are also polishers of rough diamonds. Over the last few weeks, Surat has been on the boil as thousands of these unemployed workers have clamoured to be provided with buses and trains to return to Odisha.  

Similarly, the textile town of Bhiwandi, about 60 kilometers from Mumbai, is home to about two lakh UP powerloom workers, originally of the ‘Julaha’ or weaver caste, and a lakh of Telugu ‘Padmashali’ weavers. Tirupur town’s once bustling textile industry is manned by 3 lakh workers from Bihar and UP, who have been agitating to be provided trains to make their way home 2,000 km away. As state governments struggle to restore normalcy and restart workplaces, reverse migration is the big challenge. With the restoration of public transport, the exodus is only gathering pace. Where are the workers left to man job stations?  

No wonder Karnataka chief  minister B.S.Yediyurappa made a bid to cancel scheduled trains carrying construction workers home at the behest of the construction lobby! It was also quite amusing to hear Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray exhort ‘sons of the soil’ to seize the opportunity vacated by lakhs of migrant workers. 

Irreplacable talent

It must be realized organised industry and services are talent specific; and talent is often community or region specific. ‘Sons of the soil’ cannot mechanically replace labour that had worked on jobs that require specific skills and experience. Getting back those who have gone home is also not an immediate option. It is with great risk to life and health that millions made their way back home, and they are not coming back any time soon.  

The cities have been cruel to them, offering no support or employment in the time of crisis. Given this scenario, local industry everywhere will be staring at a staffing crisis for quite some time to come.
Long term, one can take a guess how things will play out. The millions who are returning to their rural homes are unlikely to get jobs. Very few can be expected to go back to tilling the soil, and manufacturing forms just about 17 per cent of the rural economy—not enough base to absorb the returning workers.  

The unemployment rate of the rural workforce is high—5.8 per cent or nearly 16 million  pairs of hands looking for jobs; in UP and Bihar, it is even higher—6 per cent and 7 per cent, respectively. The newcomers stand little chance. Those who fled the cities therefore will ultimately return in search of livelihood, but not before industry and services go through a shock of extreme labour shortage. 

Specific skills needed

It must be realized organised industry and services are talent specific; and talent is often community or region specific. ‘Sons of the soil’ cannot mechanically replace labour that had specific skills and experience. 

The crisis in numbers

25 per cent of India’s total migrant labour force comes from the state of Uttar Pradesh, while another 14 per cent hail from Bihar 17 per cent of the rural economy accounts for manufacturing, according to estimates, and this is unlikely to be enough to absorb the returning  labour base in their home states, 5.8 per cent is the unemployment rate in rural India, with UP  and  Bihar at 6% and 7% respectively.

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