For migrant workers, anxiety abounds about return to home towns and future jobs

Migrant workers are anxious about retuning to their hometowns, as well as about their jobs here   | Photo Credit: R. Ragu

Prem Kumar from Ranchi, who worked as a welder at a construction site in Tiruvallur, is at a crossroads now. He recently became the father of twins. Left with no job following the COVID-19 lockdown, he wants to return with his family to his hometown, but is worried if he will get employment there.

Some migrant workers like him, walk to the Dr. MGR Chennai Central Railway Station every day, to enquire if train services have resumed.

Many labourers are anxious and confused over issues pertaining to their return ranging from getting registered on the website – – (announced by the government for people in other State who wish to return to Tamil Nadu), to their future employment if they return to their native towns.

“I came here two years ago as the employment opportunities were poor in Ranchi. Now, I have to shift my entire family to my hometown. This involves a huge cost, but I am frightened to stay here. At the same time, I am not sure what I will do to support my family when I return home,” says Mr. Prem Kumar.

According to activists, there are approximately 15 lakh migrant labourers in the State and close to 3 lakh in Chennai. After the lockdown began, many attempted to return to their hometowns. However, due to the non-availability of transport, they were housed in marriage halls and shelters across the State.

Many of them want to return to their hometowns, despite the government announcing some relaxations in running factories and resuming construction activities. “I wish to see my family back home. Probably after spending some time there, I could return to Chennai. But I am not sure if I will have a job,” said Bikas from West Bengal who works in Kancheepuram.

Rinsophy from Manipur who worked in a fitness centre in Chennai claimed she was paid only half her salary in March and did not receive April’s salary. “With no money, I moved into a shelter. My employers are still unclear about whether they will pay us for April, with the lockdown extended,” she said.

Her biggest concern for now, is her sister who is in Tiruppur, employed at a hotel. “We want to go back home once the restrictions are lifted as we are not sure if we will have jobs,” she said.

Zavan from Nagaland, a salesman at a retail store in a mall here, said that he had to move in with his friend after his savings ran out. “There is uncertainty surrounding our jobs. We will have to go home once trains start running,” he said

After the government announced that trains will be operated to help migrant workers return home, many workers are anxious to go back. Though neighbouring states like Kerala have started operating trains to help them travel, Tamil Nadu is yet to begin operations.

R. Geetha, advisor, Unorganised Workers Federation, said that she and many other NGOs were helping workers get registered on the website, as it is in English, tp help them return to their hometown.

“COVID-19 has a psychological impact too, as the workers are worried about the families back home. That is the reason why many are hesitant to stay back even if industries reopen. They hope to return once normalcy returns,” she said.

She said that there is a lot of confusion about how the workers will reach the station from their dwelling units. “Many living in the suburbs have no transport and the government should arrange something. They should also be given some food for their travel,” she added.

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Printable version | Jun 16, 2021 8:23:11 AM |

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