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Labour crunch hits MSMEs as migrants extend leave

Even though it is an annual phenomenon for workers to avail longer days of leave at this time of year, the rumour mills doing the rounds has resulted in 10 to 15 per cent more workers packing their bags back home.

Labour crunch hits MSMEs as migrants extend leave
Migrant workers at Coimbatore railway station.

COIMBATORE: The Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in Coimbatore and Tirupur are facing an unprecedented labour crunch due to the exodus of migrant workers to their hometowns for Holi and as well as out of fears fueled by rumours of attacks.

Even though it is an annual phenomenon for workers to avail longer days of leave at this time of year, the rumour mills doing the rounds has resulted in 10 to 15 per cent more workers packing their bags back home. Their absence has rather hit industrial production and more significantly the MSMEs sector.

“It will take at least two more weeks for the workers to come back as they usually go on longer leave for Holi. Of the six lakh above migrant workforce in Coimbatore, 35 to 40 per cent have gone and less than five per cent have returned so far. Production in the industrial units has been hit drastically due to lack of workers,” said C Siva Kumar, president, Coimbatore, Tirupur District Micro and Cottage Entrepreneur Association (COTMA).

To meet the high demand, the existing labourers are now working overtime and even on Sundays, particularly in the pump industry, which sees a spurt in demand with the onset of summer.

Echoing a similar view, the Southern India Mills’ Association (SIMA) chairman Ravi Sam said production has been hit in mills by up to 15 per cent due to exodus of the migrant workers.

“Apart from the festival, the rumours have driven a large proportion of workers to leave. Though there is a possibility for workers to migrate elsewhere in search of jobs, we are hopeful of their return as Tamil Nadu pays better than other states,” he said.

However, the knitwear sector in Tirupur does not face any immediate impact because of lack of workers as they are apparently left with minimum work due to poor orders.

“The absenteeism by workers has not been felt much due to poor work orders in the textile sector due to unstable yarn prices and global economic downturn caused by Russia-Ukraine war. However, the industry will be in crisis, if they don’t come back when normal production resumes as the sector is already facing around 50 per cent shortage of labour force,” said MP Muthurathinam, president of Tirupur Exporters and Manufacturers Association (TEAMA).

The knitwear manufacturers are hopeful that their business will pick up in the coming months with yarn prices stabilising.

“Textile manufacturers have begun to reach out to buyers and full-fledged production will resume in two months. By then, the workers should return. If not, the only option left out is for the textile units from Tirupur to shift our base to northern states to overcome labour crunch. Therefore, the government should handle the situation with utmost importance,” he added.

Industrialists seek spl trains to enable return

Industrialists have urged the Centre to operate more trains from North India to bring back migrant workers, who left Tamil Nadu following rumours of attacks on social media recently.

Migrant workers from Bihar and Jharkhand, who are employed in large numbers in MSMEs in Coimbatore and Tirupur have gone to their home states following speculations of attacks and as well as to celebrate Holi.

“They now want to come back and join work. However, their return is being delayed as trains are running full and heavily crowded. Therefore, the Centre should run special trains to facilitate their return at the earliest,” said C Sivakumar, president of COTMA in a petition to Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnav to operate special trains from northen states.

Industrialists claimed that only a small segment of the workforce would have planned their return journeys in advance even at the time of leaving. “A majority of others are still unsure of their return and lack of tickets in trains may also influence their decisions. Therefore, more special trains should be run to bring them back at the earliest,” said another industrialist. Representatives of industrial units have kept the channel of communication open and were persuading the workers to return soon.

MP Muthurathinam, president of TEAMA said, “Special zones should be created in districts with barren lands for MSMEs to expand by providing subsidies and focus more on skill development of local workers. The existing crisis should be taken as a lesson and be prepared to meet any eventuality, while not totally dependent on the migrant workforce alone.

“Housing units should be built to accommodate at least one lakh workers in Tirupur. It is because of lack of housing facilities that labourers fail to stay permanently,” said V Rajsekar, a knitwear unit owner in Tirupur.

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V Ashok Kumar
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