A scheme to build night shelters for migrant labourers, announced in the State Budget, sounds good on papers. But there is a flipside. Many manufacturing units hire migrants on contract without registering their names with the Labour Department, making it difficult for such workers to walk into government-sponsored shelters.
The project is important for Ernakulam where a large number of migrant workers are forced to sleep rough or in tin shacks.
The plywood industry, concentrated in Perumbavoor, employs hundreds of migrant workers from West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar, Assam and Jharkhand. Many such units accommodate workers in shacks made of metallic sheets, without kitchens or toilets, on factory premises.
The unhygienic shelters have been a concern to the neighbourhood residents, who have been waging a struggle under an umbrella organisation against the polluting plywood units.
Many plywood manufacturers are not keen on regularising the workforce. While a skeleton staff would be on payroll, many others would be working on contract. Manufacturers save on time and money as they do not have to deal with the Labour Department regime and need not pay the statutory benefits to workers.
The problems faced by migrant labourers in the State in general and Perumbavoor in particular have been mentioned in a study by a group of experts consisting of D.Narayana, Director, Gulati Institute of Finance and Taxation (GIFT), an autonomous institution of Government of Kerala, researcher C.S.Venkiteswaran, and M.P. Joseph, Advisor to the Labour Minister. Their report says the size of the migrant population in Perumbavoor region is estimated at 1.15 to 1.30 lakh. “In some crowded colonies of migrant labour, on an average 10 migrants reside in a single unit of approximately 200 square feet.”
The number of domestic migrant labourers in Kerala is around 2.5 million.