Recent exodus of north eastern workers has hit production process in many units

When a dozen or more workers in an industrial unit decide overnight to quit work, production process takes a hit and the task of the manager turns unenviable. This is the situation that some industries in Coimbatore faced last week because groups of workers from the north eastern States decided to return home.

Coimbatore’s industries have more than 50 per cent of their manpower from other States, including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Assam. Though manpower shortage is a major challenge for these units for the last five years, the recent development of north eastern workers going home have made the industrial associations sit up and consider an action plan.

T.C. Thiagarajan, president of Southern India Engineering Manufacturers’ Association, says the industrial body has discussed the issue. While the North East workers are employed mostly in the hospitality sector, the engineering units have a large number of workers from other States such as Bihar. The industrial scenario is changing in Bihar. Cost of transporting raw materials is relatively low there and workers have learnt the skill by working in industries here. However, power availability is a major problem in States such as Bihar and Jharkhand and hence, those from Bihar may not leave the industries here in large numbers at least for another three to five years. But, there are challenges because of industrial development in neighbouring countries.

The association also plans to seek higher capital subsidy and investment-linked tax benefits to encourage micro, small and medium-scale enterprises to modernise.

Action plan

R. Ramachandran, President of Coimbatore District Small Industries’ Association, says nearly 60 per cent of the workers in small-scale industries here are from other States. “We need to have an action plan and go in for need-based automation.” Industries should invest more in technology and banks should also support this move. This will enable the industries to continue production even if availability of migrant workers becomes a problem in the future.

The micro industries feel that it is not just a group of workers returning home but also the fear among workers from other States that are a matter of concern. Most of them live in accommodations provided by the industries and have been assured that they are safe here. But, the trend of workers leaving in large numbers is not good. The micro industries are looking at efforts to improve modernisation and bringing workers from other parts of Tamil Nadu and training them. The State Government should also think on these lines and work out a plan for the manpower needs of the industries, they say.

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