Migrant labourers who had left for their native places after coronavirus lockdowns are either returning themselves or being brought back by their employers to project sites in cities, according to industry players.
Since the country has already entered Unlock 2.0, projects that were stalled due to the lockdown have resumed work, though with just half of their capacity as most of the labourers are yet to return.
Engineering firms, which have been hit hard due to non-execution of large infrastructure projects, are taking initiatives to bring back the workforce from states such as Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Gujarat.
According to recent data by Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, thousands of workers have been brought back by engineering firms to complete the metro projects, including Dahisar East-Andheri East metro 7 line.
Among others, real estate players too are taking initiatives to bring back the workforce to complete the stalled projects.
“Labourers are coming back as they need jobs. Generally this is the season when they go to their villages for farming or to attend marriages. But they return soon,” a labour contractor told PTI.
He said these labourers had left cities amid COVID-19 panic, but now they want to return to work since the construction activities have begun. “While some are returning by trains, others are being brought by contractors,” he added.
Indian Railways had said that it transported over 50 lakh migrants to various parts of the country through special Shramik trains.
Meanwhile, some states have started looking for local manpower to bridge the deficit created in the workforce requirements in various sectors.
Some real estate developers are sponsoring the return of migrant workers and also facilitating their quarantine as per guidelines.
“We want to complete our projects and deliver them on time to our customers. For that we are taking steps to bring back the labourers. We are not just taking care of their journey and 14 days quarantine, but we are also paying them their wages for those days,” Puravankara Group managing director Ashish Puravankara recently told PTI.
Maharashtra, which has already given a call to the sons of the soil, has undertaken initiatives to invite locals to participate in the infra projects undertaken by the government.
Recently, the government’s skill development department conducted an online job fair to hire over 17,000 locals for various projects undertaken by Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA).
“We are in constant communications with industry bodies and various government departments to understand if there is a skill gap. We are working on skilling people locally wherever there is a requirement,” Maharashtra Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Minister Nawab Malik had recently said.
He further said that according to the information they are getting, many workers who had left the state to go to their home towns due to the panic over the pandemic are slowly coming back from states like Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar and other places to Mumbai and Pune where they were working.
According to CIEL HR Services Director and CEO Aditya Mishra, around 30-40 per cent of people who have gone back home are returning to Maharashtra and Gujarat.
“They left in fear but in their villages they were not able to get the basic facilities there. Also MNREGA was not enough to keep the entire family occupied,” he said.
When the Unlock 1.0 was announced and construction work began, people started coming back, Mishra said, adding that many companies facilitated their journey back taking all preventative measures as per government guidelines and gave them a secure and healthy environment as part of their CSR initiatives.
Mishra further said that not only unskilled workers but also highly skilled technicians are coming back to their places of work. Even new workforce or first timers are joining.
However, people from other sectors like travel and hospitality among others are yet to come back as these segments are not fully open, he noted.
Industry insiders said local workers are demanding more wages for the same work as they did in the pre-COVID-19 period when the supply of migrant labourers was more.
“We are facing a lot of issues with the local labourers. The restrictions due to the lockdown has added to the woes as the locals are unwilling to travel to far places. They are also demanding more wages. Also, now these locals will go to their villages for the Ganpati festival. We are hopeful that by August, more migrant labourers will return and things will get back to normal,” Dipti Mehta, an architect, said.