Factory owners in lurch, industries are facing a grave challenge
The Correspondent Bureau: Adhering to the government diktat of paying salaries to workers is proving costly for factory owners in Mumbai as migrants workers have slipped off after receiving their emoluments leaving the business establishments high and dry. After the Lockdown was imposed, the Ministry of Home Affairs had ordered the industry to pay full salaries to the employees and not to lay off workers. The diktats were not legally binding. Mukesh Ambani, the richest man in the country, has announced a salary cut for employees of Reliance Industries. But few businessmen out of humane considerations decided to support their employees. But it proved a costly affair.
The lockdown perpetuated a mass migration of workers from cities to their hometowns and villages. There are approximately 130 to 140 million migrant workers in the country, majority of whom took to the roads as extended lockdown posed difficult questions. Many had lost their source of income. But even those who were getting regular salaries, left for their home stations. Business houses could foresee the problems they would be facing without a labour force but supported regardless.
“We could see it coming but we decided to support the employees nevertheless,” says Vishwa Ratan Arya, an entrepreneur who operates two steel decoiling units in Mumbai’s Kalamboli and Taloja areas. Vishwa Ratan Arya employees around 40 workers in these units. He provides lodging and boarding facilities to his staff. The abrupt lockdown halted production and business came to a complete standstill. But, Vishwa went out of his way to support the workers, by ensuring that the staff does not face any food supply shortage by providing extra resources. Both Kalamboli and Taloja areas are steel manufacturing hubs.
But after receiving the salaries of March and April, majority of the labours packed off and left for Uttar Pradesh last week. “Now we were planning to commence work from Monday but with no workforce, what do we do. Even my two drivers have left,” says Arya. Another steel plant owner (name of company withheld due to avoid being witch-hunted by the government officials) Sudhir Gupta, says, “The government told the businessmen to pay the salaries. We did. Now the workers have left. Can the government bring them back?” A labour who left for his home town not from the Navi Mumbai location remarked, “I am leaving for my hometown as I don’t know what will happen. I want to be with my family in such times.”
Ambika Prasad who runs a workshop in Taloja, MiDC, says, “This is a bigger blow. We could tolerate so far. But now when the time had come to open the factories, there is no labour. Without labour, we cannot move an inch. We have no way to stop the migrant workers. How could we make someone work by force?” The Prime Minister had a six hour meeting on Monday with the chief ministers on possible opening up the economy and discussed the lockdown exit strategy.
However, the views of the chief ministers were divided. The government has opened up selective rail service for passengers and inter-state movement is also expected to commence post May 17, when the third lockdown phase ends. Modi is expected to unveil the future plans. The Congress party has criticized Modi for lack of any exit strategy.
The total number of cases have crossed 70,000 with more than 2000 deaths. Approximately, 1 crore migrant workers are keen to return to their respective home stations from Maharashtra alone, according to sources.
The migrant labours who till last month were walking back hundreds of kilometers to their hometowns, have started chartering trucks. Paying anything from Rs 1000 to 3000, the migrant workers have been hiring trucks from Mumbai, Delhi or Chandigarh to their respective places in Bihar or UP.
The trucks are crossing various police check posts and state borders by greasing the palms of officials posted at these check points. The truck owners are willing obliging as they also make a quick buck in these distressed times. A truck owner, who did not possess a national permit, sent his truck from Mumbai to Uttar Pradesh. On return from UP in two days, the truck owner had made a profit of Rs 75,000. Not bad, hanh!