Tamil Nadu

MSMEs seek govt. help to bring back workers

Waiting for a call: Migrant workers are reported to be willing to return to work at MSMEs if arrangements are made for their return by train.   | Photo Credit: B_JOTHI RAMALINGAM

Tamil Nadu’s micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) sector, already crippled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is now bleeding due to a massive labour shortage.

On one side, the migrant workers have not returned from their home towns and on the other, there has been an exodus of workforce.

“More than 40% of my workers are yet to return. I am able to operate only two shifts,” said the proprietor of an unit in Chennai.

At least eight entrepreneurs from industrial estates in the State told The Hindu that recovery in their production had been less than 50% when compared to pre-lockdown levels.

They attributed workforce shortage as a major reason for this. Representatives of a few units on Chennai’s outskirts said even the local workforce (including administration staff) were not turning up for work as local trains had not resumed operations.

“There are no train services for the local labour movement. Most of them come from places such as Arakkonam, Ranipet, Avadi and Tiruttani and for them cost of commuting through trains is cheaper than other modes,” said K. Baskaran, secretary, Kakkalur Industrial Estate Manufacturers Association (KIEMA).

“Labourers from north India are ready to come to Chennai if they are provided with special trains,” he added.

According to K.E. Raghunathan, convener, Consortium of Indian Associations, in tier-1 towns there is a shortage of semi-skilled and unskilled labour; in tier-2 towns, there is a need for skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workforce; and in tier-3 towns, there is a crisis in getting even administrative staff. “Almost 50% of migrant labourers have not returned,” he said.

R.G. Chakrapani, secretary, Thirumazhisai Industrial Estate, said a section of migrant workers feared contracting COVID-19 in Chennai. “A few large firms have managed to bring their migrant workers through flights. Now, workers from smaller units are demanding the same,” he said.

However, R. Selvam, secretary, Thirumudivakkam Industrial Estate Manufacturers Association, said slowly the shortage in workforce was being met.

In the last two months, many MSMEs tried recruiting people from in and around Chennai but the formula did not work well for them. Mr. Selvam said the local workers’ response is not as expected. “Local people don’t want to work in MSMEs,” Mr. Chakrapani lamented and pointed out that a few firms were now evaluating options like automation.

“We cannot do away with migrant workers but we can certainly automate a few processes where human interference is not required,” he added.

Poor response

An MSME unit proprietor in Guindy said he had offered jobs to 15 locals and last week only two reported for work. “The others gave excuses like no transportation, its too far, etc. They want jobs in malls and IT firms and not at MSMEs,” he rued. Now, he is making efforts to bring back his migrant workers.

The MSME units urged the State government to make some efforts to bring them back as hiring and training new workers was difficult. “We had a meeting with District Collectors but we were told the responsibility of bringing back the workers was ours. We are now waiting to meet the Chief Minister,” an office-bearer of another industrial estate said. If the labour issue was not fixed immediately, it could lead to more financial problems, said veterans in the sector.

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Printable version | Oct 28, 2020 10:20:42 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/msmes-seek-govt-help-to-bring-back-workers/article32699925.ece

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