Kerala, which largely depends on the remittances of around two million Malayalis working in the Gulf, has now become a thriving job market for workers hailing from Assam, West Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa. Though the exact figure is not clear, a Labour Department estimate puts it at 20 lakh to 30 lakh, which includes skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled hands.

Brought to the State by labour contractors, they come in search of better wages from Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, and are engaged in sectors such as construction, hotels, footwear, plywood making, lottery selling, quarry and brick kilns.

Mahinder, 28-year-old from Jharkhand, has been working as a supplier in a local hotel for over a year because he is paid more here than in his home State. “I earn Rs.3,500 a month here. We were never paid more than Rs.1,000 in my State. We are also given lodging and food here. Many of my friends work in hotels and construction sites in Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi.”

Samar, who migrated from West Bengal, works at a construction site near Technopark, and saves a good chunk of his wages to send home. ‘Migrant workers,' as they are known here, are preferred by employers since their wages are lower compared to local workers and there is a perception that they work harder than the unionised natives. While men work in construction and hotel sectors, women are mostly employed in quarries and as maids.

In the construction sector, labourers are paid at least Rs.250 a day, less than the Rs.450-500 demanded by local people. With an influx of north Indian professionals to IT campuses such as Infopark and Technopark, there is much demand for cuisine from that region, creating more jobs for cooks from there. However, Anandi, a social researcher who studies migrant labour in Kerala believes that these workers are exploited by middlemen and job agents. “Employers claim migrant labourers are provided reasonable pay or decent accommodation. The reality is that most of them sleep in shacks at worksites and are not provided enough food, clean drinking water or toilet facilities,” she said.

The State stipulates that each worker register in a local labour office. Agents who bring them have to pay Rs.1,000 as refundable deposit per head. But, labour contractors and middlemen manipulate the numbers to pay less bond amount, often making the exact count of migrants difficult.

Now, the Kerala government has announced a plan to bring in a registration systemin the State for migrant jobseekers. — PTI