MUMBAI: Manufacturing in the country won’t take off as soon as lockdown restrictions are lifted due to an acute shortage of workers who have returned to their home states, industrialists said.
The automobile, textile and engineering industries, among others, depend primarily on outstation employees for working their plants.
“Such workers may need some time to get back to Bangalore where our production base is as inter-district or interstate travel is also curtailed during the lockdown,” said Naveen Soni, senior vice president, sales and service, Toyota Kirloskar Motor. “Considering such conditions, the first few days may see fewer numbers of workers turning in to office.”
Given the chaos that surrounded the exodus of workers from industrial clusters like the National Capital Region when the lockdown started on March 25, the concern is whether transportation facilities are adequate to allow all workers to travel back to the cities after the restrictions are eased.
Even if workers manage to move back to their workplaces, they may not be welcomed by their landlords due to fear psychosis, pointed out Sudhir Mutalik, managing director of Nashik-based Positive Metering Pumps.
“Even medical practitioners are being questioned in housing societies out of fear of Covid-19. Do you think societies will allow migrant workers to come back from outside?” Mutalik asked.
Many of the migrant workers can’t be replaced by locals because of the skills they’ve picked up over the years doing specific jobs like turning and foundry-work.
Clothing manufacturers in the NCR anticipate a peculiar problem. Many of their workers were unable to go home and were stuck in the city. When the lockdown lifts, they are likely to go home, creating a worker shortage, said Gautam Nair, managing director of Matrix Clothing. About 80% of the 6,000 workers at Matrix’s five Gurgaon factories stayed back, Nair told ET.
Mahindra Group chairman Anand Mahindra said that many parts of his company’s supply chain were handicapped due to a lack of loaders and unloaders who were mainly migrant workers.
“This pandemic has shown us that they are key elements of our ecosystem,” Mahindra said on Twitter on Wednesday. “We never paid them much attention; we now need to respect them as key support pillars of society.”
To get outstation workers to return, there should be an aggressive messaging campaign on the preparedness of the government and the industry to re-start, suggested Chandrajit Banerjee, director general of the Confederation of Indian Industry.
Issuing e-passes, arranging special transportation facilities and offering Covid-19 insurance cover for migrant workers were some of the other suggestions by the industry body.