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Updated: August 8, 2011 11:21 IST

Hit by shortage, Coimbatore looks northward for industrial workers

M. Soundariya Preetha
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Hampered by a severe labour shortage the foundry industry in Coimbatore depends on migrant workers from Orissa and Bihar. Photo:K. Ananthan.
The Hindu Hampered by a severe labour shortage the foundry industry in Coimbatore depends on migrant workers from Orissa and Bihar. Photo:K. Ananthan.

Foundries have nearly 50 per cent of workers from other States

“Workers wanted” boards on the gates of factories here have turned multi-lingual. Now the announcement is in Tamil and Hindi as well. At least a couple of Hindi-speaking supervisors are employed in every unit and teaching shop floor works is more by signs in many industries.

With the non-availability of local labour and those coming from other districts of Tamil Nadu also on the decline, industries in Coimbatore are increasingly sourcing their labour needs from the Northern and North Eastern States of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Assam. Some have workers from Nepal too.

While the foundries have nearly 50 per cent of their workers from these States, it is 30 per cent to 40 per cent on the construction sites and 10 per cent to 30 per cent in the engineering units. In the spinning mills, it varies from 10 per cent to 50 per cent and in trade and commercial establishments they are almost 30 per cent. Gold smithies also have a large number of migrant labourers from the Northern States.

“We are dependent on these workers. If they withdraw, several establishments here may close down and cut down operation hours,” says M. Krishnan, president of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Coimbatore.

“With job opportunities increasing in Bihar, manpower migrating to Coimbatore has come down and their availability too may become a problem in the future,” says N. Ramasamy, Chairman of the Coimbatore centre of Institute of Indian Foundrymen.

However, given the current labour needs here, industries continue to look to the North Indian States to find workers and it looks like migrant labourers are here to stay.

In almost all the sectors these workers are employed for non-core tasks. Though language and hence, communication, is the major problem, they work hard and for longer hours, say the employers.

Another major problem that the industries face with these workers is that they keep moving from one unit to another in a short span of time. In almost all the sectors, photo identity cards are issued to them. “We need to have some certificate by a Government authority for each worker and a database that can be built by the industry,” says Mr. Krishnan. Though a system is needed, it is very difficult as these workers keep moving from one unit to another. They work for 10 to 11 months in a year, go home for one month and on return join another industry for a higher pay, the employers say.

According to V. Unnikrishnan, chairman of the Builders' Association of India, Coimbatore, the wages have gone up for these workers too. The Bihar Government now asks the recruiting companies to ensure safety and benefits to those coming from there.

An official of the Labour Department says police now register these workers through the employers. The department insists that in commercial establishments and catering services the workers are provided adequate facilities, apart from the wages.

K. Arul, Deputy Chief Inspector of Factories, adds that since these workers do not understand the local language, in many places they are unable to follow the precautions and instructions displayed at the workplace. The Inspectorate of Factories asks all units to issue identity cards, have Hindi-speaking supervisors to guide these workers, and provide hygienic accommodation for them.

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