Kochi: Kerala is facing an unprecedented crisis with the exodus of guest workers from all districts in the state. Though labourers from other states used to return home during festivals and elections, the state is witnessing such mass departure for the first time. Construction sector, shops, eateries, manufacturing units and farming sector are depending heavily on the migrant workforce and activities in these sectors have slowed down.
Guest workers are the backbone of the many unskilled and labour-intensive manufacturing units. The state has more than 25 lakh labourers from other states and most of them are from West Bengal, Bihar, UP, Odisha, Assam and Jharkhand.
As lockdown restrictions have been eased and business is back to normal, entrepreneurs and farmers in Kerala are now facing unprecedented shortage of labour force.
“The reverse migration due to COVID-19 pandemic will upset the farm economy. Employing local labourers for nearly double the wages is not feasible. The situation in the sector will not be the same,” said P. Johnson, a farmer from Kothamangalam.
Construction sector is another area which is feeling the heat of workforce crunch. Though activities have been restarted in the sector, many projects are stuck midway due to acute scarcity of labourers. “Both the small-scale and big-ticket construction sites employing huge number of guest workers are badly affected by the shortage of workforce. Price rise of raw materials like cement and manufactured sand and scarcity of workers are the two major challenges faced by construction sector during the post-lockdown period. Though skilled labourers are locally available, works can’t be resumed as there is dearth of unskilled labourers, who are from other states. Those labourers who continue in the state now demand higher wages. The small and medium-scale contractors are in crisis as uncertainty continues over return of workers from their home states,” said Purushan Eloor, a building contractor.
Manufacturing industries like plywood units in Perumbavoor, which are solely dependent on guest workers, are facing unprecedented crisis. It is not possible to get local workforce for the labour-intensive jobs in plywood units.
Similar is the situation in hotel and hospitality sector. Though hotels and restaurants resumed operation during the lockdown – phase 5, shortage of staff affected functioning. Many hoteliers had to cut short the menu due to staff shortage.
However, a section of guest workers are staying back as they think Kerala is safer in terms of employment, food and accommodation. The daily wage of a labourer in Kerala is Rs.650 to Rs.850 which is the highest when compared to other states.
Exodus of labourers and inflow of expats coming back to the state from different countries after losing their job will deepen economic crisis and unemployment in the state, according to experts....