Updated: Jul 6, 2020
This is the story of the migrant workers of Manesar Tehsil, an urban industrial area, 20 kms from Gurugram, with 4,000+ industrial units and most (90%+) of its population of 600,000+ as migrants from UP, Bihar and Orissa. Migrants like cancer patient Sanjay, a rod-welder, who now does not have a job; Saifulla, a tailor, who was earning Rs12,000 a month, is now a labourer, earning Rs 400 a day only twice a week and wants to go back home never to return, or Manmohan, a machine operator, who despite having lost his fingers making auto-components, joined us as a Shramik Saathi recently to help other workers like him with Covid-relief initiatives.
Clearly, when COVID19 crisis started, many of these migrants did not feel secure enough to stay and wanted to get back to their villages. To understand their condition in this period, we have been conducting rapid surveys for three months. Following our reports on surveys from April20 and May 2020, we have now concluded our report for June 2020: Berozgaari!
Here are some trends we have seen that you may find worthy of your consideration, when you take your business and policy decisions:
1. In May 20, we found 23% of migrants had gone back to villages (our data-base is mostly skilled workers). This increased marginally to 25% in Jun20. A steady number, also reflecting our experience on the ground, where after a peak in April/May, demand for reverse migration is now much smaller.
Worth remembering that a c.25% migration from just Manesar would be c.150,000 adults and children who have gone back. Reverse migration among the unskilled/ daily wagers appears to be much more. According to Naharpur Panchayat members, their population has reduced from 2 lakhs to one.
2. Those three-fourths of migrants, who have stayed back, did not get paid despite the government diktats. In Apr 20, we found that two-thirds did not get paid their March salaries at all or only partially despite lock-down having started only on 25th March. In May 20, we found that 75%+ were not paid their April salaries at all. So much for the compliance with an (unrealistic) government diktat and industry’s responsibility towards their workers!
“पैसे नही है बिल्कुल भी | उधार लेकर खर्चा चला रहे हैं।” “I have no money at all. I am borrowing for all my expenses” Indal Ray, Skilled worker
3. After the lock-down started easing, thankfully 53% have found some form of employment, mostly with their previous employers. However, one-third of them have had their wages reduced by c.30% to c.Rs10,000 from their already meagre monthly pre-Covid19 wages. Is this adequate for their subsistence? No wonder, India has some of the worst social indicators compared to even our South Asian neighbours. Will they be productive enough to create an Atma-nirbhar Bharat?
“जो जॉब मिलेगी वही कर लेंगे, अभी तो मजबूरी है | "Right now, we do whatever job we can find. Times are hard right now"...Jitender, Skilled worker
4. So, unemployment is currently 47% even among our relatively skilled workers database! In our Gurgaon sample, one-third are unemployed. In our sample of those who have returned to villages, almost all (84%) have yet to start earning/have jobs. Almost all (82%) the unemployed now have no cash and have borrowed for food, rent, etc.
“यहाँ मजबूरी में काम कर रहा हूँ | घर का गुजारा करना बहुत मुश्किल है |” I work here under compulsion. It is becoming very difficult to maintain my home otherwise...Ahangir Alam, Unskilled worker
5. Unsurprisingly, number one concern for all employed and unemployed is MONEY. Equally unsurprisingly, for the unemployed, COVID is not even in their top three concerns. So, should we be surprised when we see them not following restrictions like physical distancing? Would we follow these rules, if we had no money and were short of cash to pay even home rent? Can we expect health situation for everyone in the country, including the middle classes, to improve if we left infections and disease unattended in our workers?
There are the obvious recommendations for the government that many, including us, have been making: an improved and more extensive NREGA in villages, an effective PDS for migrants, cash-transfers to the needy, especially migrants, and potentially an Urban EGA (with green-deal?) for places like Manesar.
But while the central and state governments design and implement the much needed social security schemes (all six ESIC COVID19 relief-schemes announced in April and May have no implementation detail yet), what is the role of private sector, its owners and management?
Businesses today are far more powerful to act and make a real difference if they want to, and indeed they do when their profit (and therefore careers) is at stake. So, after watching and sympathising with millions of migrant workers across the country, among other things, are businesses going to make their worker-related-decisions any better? Will they do anything to improve the working and living conditions of these workers, migrants or otherwise? Will they continue leaving the responsibility of labour completely to (often exploitative) contractors or choose better contractors or even dis-intermediate them through a better HR team?
Pre-Covid19, 90%+ of the 2,400+ workers, we had assisted in Gurugram, had these hand-crush injuries in auto-sector supply chains of Hero, Maruti-Suzuki and Honda, mainly in Power Press and Injection Moulding shops. They usually worked 12 hours shifts, six days a week, often making 400-500 components in an hour in press machines, in poor unsafe working conditions. 70%+ of them were contract workers. Hardly anyone was a member of any union and 90%+ were migrants.
Gurugam is one of the four largest auto-sector hubs in the country. Manesar, therefore, has a large population of auto-sector workers. Last week, we wrote again to boards of Hero (whose supply chain accidents went up to 68% of our accidents from c.50% previous period), Maruti-Suzuki (most co-operative of the three in safety initiatives with us) and Honda (we will also escalate to their global HO now) requesting them again to take actions to prevent these accidents in future. Should they let this crisis go waste or use it to improve working conditions in their supply chain as production gradually picks up?
And oh yes, we completed distribution of almost half a million (450,000+) meals since we started Covid-relief with your support. We have now also distributed 25000+ Masks. Distress calls for food have now reduced considerably, probably due to the above migration and return of some employment. We will continue with distributing masks and keep watching for communities' emerging needs. However, the team will now quickly revert to our original mandate of assisting workers with ESIC services, and efforts to improve ESIC nationally, and safety in the auto-sector supply chain.
Stay Safe. Stay healthy. Work safe.
Indian passport-holders, paying from their Rupee accounts/cards (80G Indian tax-relief available for 50% of your donations): www.safeinindia.org/donate
Foreign passport holders and entities, and foreign currency payers, pleased donate to Manzil through Team Seva; a USA based charity eligible under Sec 501c3 for USA tax-relief): https://manzil.funraise.org/