Other States

Back home, migrant workers write to Mamata Banerjee seeking new jobs

Sekh Suraj Ali, 25, a resident of Howrah's Udaynaraynpur block, used to earn Rs 15,000 a month working as a tailor in Kerala. Days before the nationwide lockdown was announced, with COVID-19 cases rising in Kerala, he returned to West Bengal. “I have had no work in West Bengal. So I have decided to write to the Chief Minister seeking some employment,” Mr. Ali told The Hindu.

So far, around 300 migrant workers, who have returned to West Bengal amid the COVID-19 pandemic, have written to the State government seeking reemployment, social security and healthcare facilities. The initiative is backed by the West Bengal committee of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).

In just two weeks, the labour arm of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has set up a helpline number for migrant workers to reach out to the State government.

CPI(M) worker Jaydeep Mukherjee, who is closely working with the CITU on the initiative, said an average of 50 people call every day. “A dedicated set of volunteers is engaged in collecting the details of each migrant worker. Personal details and nature of skills are recorded. Based on their immediate requirement, a petition is sent to the State government after taking their consent,” Mr. Mukherjee said.

The committee sends the petition along with the details of each migrant worker to the Chief Minister's Office, the Chief Secretary and the Labour Department.

CPI(M) leaders behind the initiative said the issue of migrant workers returning to the State amid the lockdown had dominated the political discourse in the month of May and June, but the government has not been taking stock of the situation.

Mr. Mukherjee, who had served as confidential assistant to former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee during the Left Front regime, said the idea is also to make migrant workers aware of their rights and remind the State about its responsibility to provide them with social security and alternative employment.

“Every worker is sending a separate petition, we are not aware whether any other organisation in the country has conducted such an elaborate exercise to help migrant workers,” Mr. Mukherjee said.

In some cases, these petitions have elicited a positive response from the State government. Mr. Mukherjee said in Nadia, a Labour Department official has agreed to meet a group of nine migrant workers seeking new jobs.

Only a few months ago, the issue of the return of migrant workers to West Bengal had turned into a major flashpoint between the State government and the Centre. While the Centre had accused the State of not being proactive in facilitating the return of migrants, the State government claimed that it was not taken into confidence before running Shramik Special trains. The West Bengal government had expressed concern that the return of a large number of migrants from hotspots could have an adverse impact on the COVID-19 situation in the State.

According to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, over 10.5 lakh migrant workers have returned to the State by the first week of June. The CITU leadership puts the figure between 27 lakh and 30 lakh.

“We have plans to make a permanent arrangement where migrant workers can reach out to us. We were aware that a large number of migrant workers hail from West Bengal, but the pandemic has brought the nation's attention to their ordeal,” Subhas Mukherjee, West Bengal State president of CITU, said.

He said the initiative will go a long way in improving the plight of migrant workers and making the State government accountable.

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Printable version | Sep 29, 2020 4:37:15 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/back-home-migrant-workers-write-to-mamata-banerjee-seeking-new-jobs/article32280960.ece

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