Majority of them are not registered with Labour Department
There are roughly two lakh migrant workers from other States in Ernakulam district, according to a study conducted recently.
The two-year-long study, commissioned by the Kerala Labour Movement, found that a huge majority of the migrant workers were not registered with the Labour Department and hence were not eligible for the State government’s worker benefits. While their daily wages were far better than in many other States, the migrant workers lived in pretty bad conditions.
The study on ‘Unorganised labourers in Ernakulam district’ was carried out by Martin Patric, a former Economics professor, and his team of researchers. It aimed to study the extent and nature of unorganised labourers in both the formal and informal sectors of the district’s economy.
Migration to Ernakulam district started in the 1980s, and in those days the workers were mostly from Tamil Nadu and neighbouring States. But, the second wave of migration that began in the late 1990s, thousands of workers started arriving from Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Chattisgarh, Assam and even from Manipur. Initially they were employed in major projects of the Railways and the port. But lately, they are seen across the labour market. Thousands were employed as farm hands, masons, carpenters, and domestic and construction workers. Aside from Kochi, migrant workers’ major centres were Perumbavoor, Muvattpuzha, Kalady and Kodanad.
Interestingly, there is skill specialisation among migrant workers depending on the regions they come from. For example, road workers were mainly from Panchmahals, quarry workers from Bharauch and rice mill workers from Jalan. In some sectors, such as construction and brick kilns, migration of entire families has been a norm.
The study found that employers in Ernakulam preferred migrant workers because of their willingness to work long hours and take up taxing physical work. As a result, they faced hostility of local workers. Death and accidents are frequent among migrant workers as they are often engaged in hazardous occupations without necessary safety precautions.
The working and living conditions of the migrant labourers are often pathetic. Mostly, dozens of people are packed in small labour camps and up to six or eight people in a small room.
Though there are two lakh inter-State migrant workers in Ernakulam district, only around 5000 were registered with the Migrant Labour Welfare Board, the study has found.