77% of migrants plan to return to work in cities: Study

About 69% of the migrants were in the age group between 20 and 40, and most were graduates and technically qualified.   | Photo Credit: file photo

Reverse migration [massive movement of workers from “destination” to “origin”] on account of the COVID-19 lockdown has caused concern among industries and businesses, and raised some important questions: Will they stay back there or return to work? Will the restart of economic activities in urban India be adversely affected because of the non-return or delayed return of migrants?

A study by the Centre for Decentralisation and Development, Institute for Social and Economic Change reveals that 77% of migrants, from Belagavi, Chamarajanagar, Dakshina Kannada, Davangere, and Kalaburagi districts, plan to return to work.

This study was conducted through a telephonic survey in April-May 2020.

As many as 7.3% of the sample households, mostly from Dakshina Kannada, Chamarajanagar and Kalaburagi, had migrants seeking livelihood in Bengaluru, Mysuru, Kerala, and Pune before the lockdown.

About 69% of the migrants were in the age group between 20 and 40, and most were graduates and technically qualified.

Among the surveyed migrants, 55% were salaried, but there is considerable variation in their work. Some are working for companies in India, Kuwait, and South Africa.

Many others are in dead-end jobs in the informal sector as bakery helpers, drivers and construction workers. High-end workers usually come from the developed district of Dakshina Kannada, while dead-end job holders are from Kalaburagi.

While some high-end workers, with assured salaries or ample availability of work-from-home opportunities, stayed back in destinations, several dead-end workers were stuck there.

A person from Kalaburagi working in a hotel in Pune could not return owing to transport disruption. As the employer refused to pay salary, money from home is obtained to survive in Pune.

Two construction workers, husband and wife from Kalaburagi, were earning daily wages of ₹500 at Pune. Without income, they survived on food packets provided by a local NGO on alternative days.

Multiple reasons

Why would they return to the destination cities?

The first reason for wanting to return to cities is the availability of secure and attractive job contracts as in the case of a sales manager in an automobile company. Second is the belief that economic improvement is possible only in urban India. For instance, an employee working as quality controller in a company in Bengaluru said that though livelihood is possible in his village, he prefers the city work as this has greater potential to provide an opportunity to improve his situation.

Third reason is limited use of acquired skills in rural areas. A specialist in the repair of air-conditioners and a nurse are keen to return to their urban jobs once transport is restored because both believe that their skills are employable only in urban areas. Fourth, a few migrants, such as a car driver for two decades, say that they cannot do anything other than this, and hence cannot derive livelihood in rural areas.

The fifth reason is higher remuneration in the city. The father of two brothers, employed as helpers in provision stores and bakery earning ₹10,000 and ₹8,000 per month, respectively in Bengaluru, insisted that they should find work in the village. However, the brothers are reluctant because they believe that they will never be able to earn matching salaries.

Safety concerns

A few migrants, mostly labourers in the urban informal sector, have decided to stay back because of safety concerns and the perception that their livelihood opportunities in urban India are destroyed by the pandemic and associated lockdown.

In some cases, the decision was also influenced by the ownership of landed assets, schoolgoing children in villages and possession of multiple skills that can be used in villages.

Attractive social security and safety-net measures such as health and income security are therefore necessary to win their confidence back in building a self-reliant India in line with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision.

The authors are Professor and Assistant Professor, respectively, at the Centre for Decentralisation and Development, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru. This is the second of a three-part series.

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Printable version | Sep 24, 2021 12:44:22 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/77-of-migrants-plan-to-return-to-work-in-cities-study/article31609690.ece

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