Back home in U.P., job offer worries migrant workers

More than 9 lakh migrant workers have returned to the State during lockdown, the govt says

May 14, 2020 03:49 pm | Updated 03:49 pm IST - Sitapur

Migrants travel on a truck to reach their native places, amid ongoing COVID-19 lockdown in Prayagraj, Thursday, May 14, 2020.

Migrants travel on a truck to reach their native places, amid ongoing COVID-19 lockdown in Prayagraj, Thursday, May 14, 2020.

Satish Kumar turns restless when asked what he thinks about the Uttar Pradesh government’s plans to provide jobs to the migrant workers who have returned to their homes during the lockdown.

“There are thousands of people returning to their villages... they are starving. How will they employ all,” he asks.

Mr. Kumar stands within the walls of the Chadra government primary school in Pisawan, Sitapur, which serves as a quarantine centre for migrants before they are allowed to go home. He was working as a labourer in Haryana in mustard and wheat fields, when the lockdown forced him towards his native place. After much struggle, he reached Sitapur on May 11.

Mr. Kumar is sceptical of the government’s announcement that employment opportunities would be provided to the migrant workers. In Haryana, he says, he earned ₹360-500 daily. In his village, if he works under the rural employment guarantee scheme, he is likely to earn relatively less.

“Why would I leave my village in the first place if I was getting work here,” he asks. He calms down to say that if the government can guarantee him any form of employment, he is unlikely to return to Haryana after the lockdown.

“I will earn only ₹200. But every penny will be worth it, in the presence of my family. My kids won't have to walk [on the highway],” said the father of three.

Back in the native places, migrant workers are pressed to think about their financial future. Many have lost their livelihoods.

More than 9 lakh migrant workers have returned to U.P. during the lockdown, the government said. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath plans to provide employment to 20 lakh such people. The process starts right at the quarantine centre. Anil Singh, the revenue official for this centre, says, “They will get the type of jobs they want.”

Skills nor noted down

A large notebook details the names, addresses, phone numbers and date of arrival of the migrants at the centre. However, the columns under educational qualification, skills and experience in the diary have not been filled for days.

Most under quarantine here are labourers.

Swami Prasad Maurya, Labour Minister, said the “work nature” of the migrant workers would be observed during quarantine and employment provided to them as per their skill set. While some were daily wage labourers, construction workers, vendors and non-skilled workers, others may have mechanical and technical skills.

Many young migrant workers, especially those employed in technical jobs, are reluctant to work as labourers back home.

Data | 96% migrant workers did not get rations from the government, 90% did not receive wages during lockdown: survey

Rajesh Mishra worked as a supervisor in a Delhi-based footwear firm and came back to Sitapur on May 4 with his wife and child. He is yet to make up his mind about going back, and is assessing employment options that the government could offer.

“Even if I get employed as a supervisor under the MNREGA, I will do it. But digging work with a shovel? That I cannot do,” he asserted. If suitable employment is not provided in his native, he says he will have no option but to return to Delhi.

Like him, many migrant workers are curious and anxious about the type of work they may be provided in their native. The choice may help them decide their near future.

Neeraj Yadav, who worked as a supervisor in an online shopping company in Delhi, says he does not plan to go back. His family owns 40 bighas of land, providing him financial security. “I can't work in the MNREGA. If I have to do such work, I rather do it on my own farm,” he said.

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