With Tamil Nadu under lockdown from May 10 to May 24, the state is staring at an exodus of migrant workers once again. Scores of migrant workers from Bihar, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, West Bengal and Odisha have already left from the industrial towns of Coimbatore and Tirupur with a small percentage deciding to stay back.
Mohammed Suhaib Alam, a migrant labourer who works in the Tirupur textile industry while speaking to IANS said, “Half of our friends have already left the town as we are in constant fear. People think that if we reach our home, we can at least be with the family rather than in an alien land. Myself and six of our room mates are staying back as the owner of our industrial unit is very compassionate and is providing everything to us. This is not the case with everyone and hence people are moving out.”
The government of Tamil Nadu does not have a proper data base of these migrant workers except for a rough estimate that there are around 30 lakhs of them spread across Tamil Nadu engaged in various kinds of jobs.
In October 2020, the Tamil Nadu Civil Services Corporation had announced a portal for the migrant workers to register and to include them under ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ scheme, but the project is still on hold. This would have given a semblance of idea on the migrant workers present in the state and their whereabouts and details but unfortunately, the state is lacking on the data of t$hese workers.
However, the labour department of Tamil Nadu had in an initiative developed an exclusive portal to track the whereabouts and details of migrant workers in the state. This was intended to help the workforce from outside the state to avail the benefits under the Building and Other Construction Workers Act, 1996 and other labour laws. There is a data of 4.5 lakh migrant workers registered on this portal but unfortunately this is not updated.
The industrial bodies of Coimbatore and Tirupur are trying to convince the workers not to leave the state. Initiatives are being taken by Federation of Coimbatore Industrial Association, CREDAI and Tirupur Exporters association to try and persuade the workers to continue working.
With the European markets opening up and Tirupur having to execute several international orders, the export units of the town cannot afford to lose the services of these workers.
Kalesh Kumar, a textile unit worker in Tirupur hailing from Ranchi, Jharkhand while speaking to IANS said, “The owners of these companies are promising the sky. But we are not convinced, what if the situation becomes worse, no one will help. I have the bitter experience of 2020 and I am not taking the risk, myself and ten of our team from Jharkhand are going back, come what may.”
If the Tamil Nadu government does not act swiftly and prevent the exodus, the industries which were looking up will have again to face the reality of shutting down bringing in heavy losses.