From air tickets, free train travel to higher wages, employers try to bring back...

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Hyderabad-based construction major Megha Engineering and Infrastructure s Limited (MEIL) brought back about 1,000 workers who had returned to Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh during the coronavirus lockdown. The firm paid for their train tickets to resume construction work of the Polavaram multi-purpose project on Godavari River in Andhra Pradesh’s West Godavari district, company officials said on Tuesday. Another 1,800 would be brought back soon, they said.

MEIL general manager, Satish Angana, said over 3,000 migrant workers had gone back to their native states like Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa, compelling the company to continue works with the available meagre workers.

Also read: Covid-19 cases spike in 6 states as migrants return

“Till now, around 1,000 workers had been ferried back to Andhra Pradesh through Shramik Special trains at the company’s expenses. Another 1,800 workers are expected to be brought back shortly,” said another official who was not willing to be quoted. Angana said all these returning workers were tested at special medical camps and are allowed to work.

Although the government has relaxed restrictions and allowed industries to reopen from May 3, the production has not increased much because of the shortage of labourers as workers left for their homes after the lockdown commenced from March 25. The Central government informed the Supreme Court last week that close to 10 million workers were sent back to their homes through special Shramik trains that started from May 1.

However, as the industries and realty sector resumed operations in full swing from May 17, the employers tried to bring back workers, especially the skilled ones, who were needed to start the work. As workers expressed inability to return in the absence of enough trains, the employers tried to woo them, promising higher wages, better working conditions and even flight and train tickets.

Bangalore-based Prestige Group has flown 10 carpenters from Patna to Hyderabad where it has taken up a major real estate project. “One of our contractors booked flight tickets for these 10 carpenters from Patna to Hyderabad. We have to complete the projects before the deadline fixed by the Real Estate Regulatory Authority and deliver the flats to the customers,” a senior vice-president of Prestige Group told a news agency.

Bobby Jindal, owner of Balaji processors, a blanket manufacturing firm in Punjab’s Ludhiana, brought back seven of his master craftsmen by air from Patna.

“I was left with less than 50 workers at my unit which adversely affected production. I booked air tickets for seven master workers who took a flight from Patna to Delhi and then from Delhi to Sahnewal Airport in Ludhiana last week,” Jindal said, adding that he had also arranged two taxis and booked train tickets for some of the other workers. “I have spent Rs two lakh on bringing 50 workers back in the last few days.”

Rahul Verma, who runs a manufacturing unit in Ludhiana, brought his five highly skilled workers back from Bihar who were needed in the casting unit. “For some other workers, I have booked their tickets and paid them to return,” he said.

In Rajasthan, from where workers go to other states looking for work, some industry owners have offered to arrange transport for workers to return. Sunil Jain president, Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Associations of India (CREDAI), Rajasthan said the real estate and construction sector was facing a 30 to 40% shortage of labourers as a large chunk of labourers has returned home due to the scare of coronavirus and the lockdown. Most of the workers have returned to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal and Jharkhand.

“I know of some real estate firms that are trying to get labourers back through contractors. Contractors are in touch with the workers and are convincing them to return, assuring them that they will get full work and wages. A few have even sent vehicles to ferry workers back and promised higher wages,” he said.

Aseem Kumar, general secretary of the Garment Exporters Association of Rajasthan says the industry was facing up to 70% shortage of labourers and therefore, facing problems in meeting the delivery deadlines. “Some units have offered a 50% increase in wages to deliver pending orders. They are offering higher wages, accommodation and even promising work for the whole year but labourers are not ready to return,” he said, adding that a majority of garment exports from Rajasthan are for Japan, the US, Europe and South America.

Charanjit Singh Vishwakarma, former President of United Cycle Parts Manufacturers Association (UCPMA) in Ludhiana, said he has already sent money to three of his labour contractors in Bihar to bring back workers. “As trains have not fully resumed, the workers are finding it difficult to get confirmed tickets to come via train. The government should start Shramik trains to bring them back,” he said.

“Some factory owners have also offered higher salary for workers returning immediately. They are also paying for their train tickets,” Tarsem Jodhan, President of Punjab Mazdoor Union.

To revive industrial production in the state, Punjab government last week sent two buses to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to bring back workers. “I have arranged buses to bring back workers to industrial towns,” said Punjab Industries Minister Sham Sunder Arora, after a meeting with industrialists in Ludhiana on last Friday.

Rajasthan government has offered to help the industry in getting labourers back from other states, provided industry bears the cost of transportation. Labour secretary, Niraj K Pawan said, “If the industry provides us details of districts from which they want the labourers back, we will coordinate with those states and facilitate the transport of the workers.”

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