Labour crisis may reverse economic recovery while migrant workers need support

THE fear of a possible lockdown resurfacing after a year has left a gloomy cloud over the plight of the migrant labourers. Even though it is not as chaotic, many labourers are slowly returning back to their hometowns fearing the inevitable. Considering that a steep increase in labour shortage may reverse the economic recovery, we need to tread with caution. 

While the Government has not explicitly used the word lockdown, many of them are observing the trend of how multiple sectors of the economy are being shut down gradually. The trauma of last year has widened the trust gap between the labourers and the Government which even employers are unable to resolve.

When the lockdown was announced on March 24 last year, the Modi government had assured all possible help to the migrant labourers. However, almost no help reached them while they were left stranded and stagnated and this compelled them to return to their homes. People took up long and arduous journeys, some even by foot for up to a thousand miles, with no food, no water, and little hope of getting some in on their way through the locked-down towns and its deserted streets. 

Hundreds of them lost their lives, but when the question of compensation was presented before Parliament, the government dismissed it by saying that there was a lack of proper data. 

Even though certain special trains were operational, one witnessed gut-wrenching scenes on the platforms- such as a child trying to wake his dead mother up. 

The degree of their suffering has created a high level of mistrust and even though most  Chief Ministers and the Prime Ministers said that lockdowns are not necessary. Such statements were viewed with suspicion. 

Given this backdrop, the Centre, the States, the employers, and the civil society has a great task in hand to win back the faith of the migrant labourers. It can not be done only by lip service. Some concrete work is needed to encourage them to stay at their workplaces. In almost all the states, migrant labourers suffer from the bias of the locals. They also become victims of the local hegemony because the locals do not treat them with respect. . In Maharashtra, certain resident locals tried pinning the blame on migrant workers for the rapid spread during the second wave of COVID-19. This attitude is indeed disheartening for the migrants.

Access to healthcare facilities for migrant labourers has always been ridden with numerous hurdles. In the last few years, the health facilities in the country are increasingly being linked to documents. Lack of proper documentation in this arena of work is making it difficult for them to avail affordable healthcare in their city of work.

There must be a system in place to take care of their daily needs in case the second wave of Covid-19 necessitates lockdowns for longer periods. The onset of the same presently has indeed o impacted their earnings, and therefore requisite financial support must be provided to them. Their jobs can definitely be looked at as some of the building blocks of economic revival and without their services, restoring our economy will be close to impossible. 

Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Delhi have been indicating the large-scale return of migrant labourers. 

The Modi government must do something now exclusively for migrant labourers to make them comfortable at their places of work to prevent another crisis that would be worse than the country suffered during the first wave of the Covid-19 outbreak. 

Given that the second wave presents a grimmer situation, thoughtful and clear decisions are necessary to help the workforce. (IPA Service)

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