M. Soundariya Preetha

COIMBATORE: “We have the machines. But do not have the people to operate the machinery,” says Coimbatore District Small Industries' Association President K. Ilango on the increasing labour shortage faced by the industries here.

Be it small-scale industries, micro units, engineering or the textile sector here, there is a need for larger workforce as business has bounced back after about two years of economic slowdown. But the industries are finding it difficult to get the manpower needed for operations at the shop floor, material movement, handling the machinery and supervising.

Tamil Nadu Association for Micro and Cottage Enterprises President J. James says he has just one-third of the number of workers needed to operate the lathes in his unit.

“Across sectors, we have orders; but no people to execute the orders,” Southern India Engineering Manufacturers' Association President Jayakumar Ramdass.

The labour shortage has gone up by about 10 per cent during the last one month. Some of the workers who came from North India have gone back home for Holi. “We do not know how many of them will return to work,” says Mr. Ramdass. The problem is likely to be acute in future. As wage costs go up and finding workers gets tougher, organisations will have to realign business models and bring in more automation, he says.

During the slowdown, some workers migrated to opportunities in the service sector. Capacities that were added two years ago and commissioned during the slowdown are running to full capacities now and these need additional workers. Further, industries have started buying new machinery now. All these factors create a pressure on labour and wages have also moved up, adds Mr. Ilango. Workers who used to receive Rs. 120 for eight hours work a day now get Rs. 150 to Rs. 170.

Mr. James points out micro units that mostly do job work for larger industries are unable to hike wages substantially because of cost competition.

“Workers are losing confidence in this sector and we are not taking any major step to bring new labour to this sector,” he says.

The textile sector is not only facing labour shortage but is also seeing higher absenteeism and drop-out rates. Workers are attracted towards non-textile opportunities.

Hence, it is becoming difficult to find workers though wages have gone up by Rs. 50 to Rs. 70 a day for a worker during the last one year, according to Southern India Mills' Association Chairman J. Thulasidharan.

More In: Today's Paper