Making migrants feel at home

‘Link’ workers handling COVID-19 helpline for labourers

Published - April 05, 2020 09:49 pm IST - Kochi

‘Link’ workers handling calls from migrants at the COVID-19 helpline at the Collectorate at Kakkanad.

‘Link’ workers handling calls from migrants at the COVID-19 helpline at the Collectorate at Kakkanad.

S. Karunakar’s ability to flit comfortably between Odia and Malayalam has him manning the COVID-19 helpline for migrant workers in the district. Karunakar and five others have been handling over 600 calls daily for nearly a week at the Collectorate at Kakkanad.

“Nearly all calls have to do with not getting sufficient food. Some recently have had to do with not being able to pay rent,” said Karunakar, who works in a plywood mill in Perumbavoor, and is from Kandhamal, Odisha.

“To address the food supply issue, we get the contractor’s number or the contact number of the owner of the building the workers are staying at. We let them know that they must provide the workers with food or else the district administration will take action,” said Rajendra Naik, another volunteer, also from Odisha. The process involves multiple follow-ups to make sure that the workers have received dry ration or food, he said. “The calls we get thanking us for the intervention makes this worth it,” he said.

Between them, the six volunteers can speak Odiya, Hindi, Bengali, Assamese, Urdu and a smattering of Tamil and Telugu. They are a part of the National Health Mission’s Atithi Devo Bhava project in the district that works towards addressing health concerns among migrant workers. They were trained to be ‘link’ workers who could create awareness among migrant workers on health issues, tiding over the language barrier.

“Several callers have asked when they can go home or if tickets can be booked soon,” said Hasina Khatun from Murshidabad, West Bengal, who works as a teacher. In the twelve years since she moved to Vazhakulam, Hasina has been able to learn to read, write, speak and teach Malayalam – a skill that is now proving to be handy while talking to contractors or owners of buildings while asking them to address the issues of workers. They are provided with transport facilities to reach the Collectorate everyday, she said.

“Most problems are resolved without any complaints being registered. But if necessary, Assistant Labour Officers might intervene,” said V.B. Biju, District Labour Officer (Enforcement).

“The government here has been very supportive. Most workers are confident that their problems will be taken care of,” said Mohammed Assadullah Dewan, a ‘link’ worker from Assam.

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