Most migrant workers in Ernakulam not part of trade unions, finds survey

‘Over 95% of migrant workers remain deprived of their right to collective bargaining at workplaces’

August 29, 2020 12:13 am | Updated 12:13 am IST - KOCHI

Unorganised: The construction sector remains the largest employer of migrants in Ernakulam with nearly 49% of them working in the field.

Unorganised: The construction sector remains the largest employer of migrants in Ernakulam with nearly 49% of them working in the field.

Over 95% of migrant workers in Ernakulam remain deprived of their right to collective bargaining at workplaces, exposing the failure of trade unions in the State.

This was revealed by a recent study on migrant workers in the district organised by Welfare Services Ernakulam with the financial and technical assistance of Caritas India and Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development (CMID) respectively. The study urged trade unions to take proactive steps to include migrant workers in their fold.

Out of the 426 migrants covered as part of the study between November 18, 2019 and January 2, only 4.7% had trade unions membership. While 19.5% of migrants from Tamil Nadu were members of trade unions, the corresponding figure for workers from West Bengal and Assam was a meagre 1.1% each.

Murshidabad in West Bengal and Nagaon in Assam remain the two biggest contributors of migrant workers to Ernakulam with 30.30% and 17.80% respectively. The district also accounts for a significant number of workers from Tamil Nadu and Odisha.

While men largely dominate the migrant force in the district, women from Tamil Nadu at 42.50% far outnumber their counterparts from other States. Nearly 57% of migrant workers are from socially and economically disadvantaged classes with limited employment opportunities beyond agriculture or agricultural labour back home.

Interestingly, 73.10% out of the 89.70% married migrants from Tamil Nadu leave their children back home in an attempt to maximise income and minimise expenses. “Tamilians, contrary to popular perception, remain one of the most vulnerable migrant communities in the district and nearly 75% of them are landless and about 31% are staring at debts. However, in the face of dominant narrative about migrants being mostly from West Bengal, their plight is being overlooked,” said Benoy Peter, executive director, CMID.

The construction sector remains the largest employer of migrants with nearly 49% followed by the plywood sector with 27.20%. Migrant workers from Tamil Nadu at nearly 80% dominate the construction sector while migrants from Assam have a stranglehold in the highly skilled plywood sector with nearly 83% participation.

Labour migration to Ernakulam remains almost entirely driven by informal social ties of the migrant workers who clock on an average of nine hours a day with an average monthly income of ₹15,000.

Over 45% of workers are paid weekly while 39.20% are paid on a daily basis. While 65.40% of total migrant workforce are paid by employers, contractors pay an overwhelmingly 57.60% of Tamil Nadu migrants.

Financial inclusion remains the poorest among migrants from Assam, out of which nearly 31% do not have a bank or post office account. Not a single migrant has either heard or enrolled under the Inter-State Migrant Worker Welfare Scheme, indicating scant reach of institutional welfare schemes.

Nearly 39% of migrant workers smoke and 28.90% use pan masala.

Despite being highly vulnerable to accidents, injuries and diseases, only 11.50% opt for hospitalisation since most of them have to depend on private hospitals and bear expenses on their own.

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