Hundreds of migrant workers flock Tiruchi every morning in search of a job

Every morning, they stand on the pavement along the highway, holding small bags carrying food and their construction equipment. Their anxious eyes reflect their thoughts as they wait for a lorry to pick them up. They are migrant workers who flock the city in search of their livelihood.

Coming from the surrounding villages, hundreds of workers depend on menial jobs for their livelihood. They work from dawn to dusk at the construction sites or on similar tedious jobs, against all odds. Their plight is a pitiable and their story, heart rending.

For them, a typical day starts at 4.30 a.m. when the women in the house cook meals for the family. In the next two hours, the breadwinners are ready to embark on their way to Tiruchi. They squeeze into the overcrowded passenger train and reach Tiruchi by 8.30 a.m. and then wait at the nearest spot to be picked up for their day’s work.

On reaching the site, they have their breakfast of ‘pazhayasu’ (porridge), considered the ideal diet for the demanding work. After slogging till dusk (after an hour’s lunch break), they begin their return journey either by train or by lorry and reach home by 9 p.m.

“Thousands of labourers travel daily to the city in overcrowded trains. Since there is no proper bus facility and the bus travel is expensive, they prefer trains because of the affordable monthly pass,” said K. Suresh, district secretary, Tamil Nadu All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) Construction Workers’ Union.

“We hardly manage two square meals a day. With men earning Rs. 350 a day and women Rs. 225, we struggle to feed our large families,” said Nagarajan, a mason from Kelapagiyapatti near Mannaparai. “It is only for educating our children that we take pains to do the work,” he adds.

According to him, the meagre wages hardly suffice. Monsoon is the most difficult time for them as rains disrupt the construction work. This is when they are forced to borrow from moneylenders and struggle to repay the loans. “Sometimes, we get jobs and sometimes we don’t. Our earning is unpredictable. On an average, we get jobs for at least four days a week, with which we manage the other three days. Thanks to the free ration rice provided by the government, we can somehow manage our food,” says Selvakumar, a construction worker who hails from Inamkulathur.

“Feeding and educating our children is our main aim. They are satiated thanks to the midday meal scheme in their schools.

For the night, we mostly buy milk for them. We are thankful to the government for such schemes, but there is a lot that needs to be done,” he says. The workers rely on help from the welfare board set up by the government for the unorganised sector. But their needs are met occasionally. Protests over the years trying to draw government’s attention towards their plight have gone in vain. “Ours is cluster of 18 villages, farming has totally been wiped out in our villages due to depleting water resource,” says Selvakumar. He wants the government to extend a helping hand to the daily wage labourers during the rainy season by providing alternative employment or set up a relief fund.

Not knowing where their next meal will come from, the daily wage workers can only hope for a better tomorrow. And that keeps them ticking.