Even as essential and non-essential business activities have been permitted by the government after the biggest lockdown across the globe, most of them are yet to resume since India now has started facing a new post-lockdown nightmare: labour crunch.
After the imposition of the sudden lockdown of 56 days (at the time of publication) that has been further extended, a few days ago, the government gave permissions to continue business activities to support the economy and avoid further unemployment.
But most of the businesses are yet to start as now there are no workers in the cities.
“The government has allowed construction activities since last two weeks, but when we got the permission to start construction and other infrastructural activities amid lockdown, the government started ferrying labourers and workers back to their hometown,” says Atarpal Singh, who manages few projects of MGCPL, a construction company majorly working for railways and government highway construction projects. This will not only kill us by inflating the project’s costs and delaying projects but also leave a dent on the government’s infrastructure goals, he further added.
The Ministry of Home Affairs, in an order issued on May 1, allowed the movement of few special trains and interstate buses to ferry the migrant workers to their hometowns. Over 6 million workers, who had already started leaving cities barefooted, covering the distance of hundreds and thousands of kilometers squeezed in whatever mode of transportation they got, are being ferried by Indian railways.
A rough data of the workers suggests that about 90 million organized and unorganized workers living in the metros have now headed back to their hometowns. The regions of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan, including some corridors of North-East that have been major sources of manual labour, are now noticing an influx of organized and unorganized workers from the construction sector, textile industry, transportation, mines, agri-business, supply chain, and other sectors.
Not only the construction companies, but the lack of manpower has also started engulfing other industries as well. The service sector, transportation, manufacturing of essential or non-essential goods are among the biggest sectors to take a blow.
“Our staff including truck drivers, mechanics, and helpers are not willing to come back to work as of now, but I need to do something to pay the installments of loans I’ve taken from different banks for the vehicles and trucks. I’m standing on the loss of up to a lakh every day”, says Kranti, Kumar, a transporter. The supply chain is also affected due to the manpower crisis, he added.
“We’re not at all positive about the business this year. I believe that we won’t be able to resume business properly till July or August this year, and when we start this year, we’ll will be invested in covering the losses,” says Asif Munazir, owner of a tour and travel company in Uttar Pradesh.
Our helping hands, staff, and workers left us; few silently packed their bags and left overnight. We tried to convince them to stay but when the government has propagated the panic instead of dealing with it with sincerity, who will stay far from their families in this era of uncertainty, exclaimed Munazir.
“Forget industries and business, households also have to bear the consequences of workers crisis as most of our maids were part of the families which came to metros for work. But this time we’ve called this upon us, we’ve never thought about the moving force of Indian economy, workers,” says Kritika Dwivedi, a communication and planning expert.
Jobless, a lot of them hungry and having no money in their pockets to support their families, empty-handed they headed to their native places with a tag ‘migrant labours’ despite working tirelessly to spin the wheel called economy. Where in the world a citizen of the country is called a ‘migrant’? She further added.
On the other hand, organizations and business outfits have started warning about the nightmare labour crunch can be. It can completely cripple our growth expectations for upcoming financial years as well.
“Noticing a steep fall, the export has come down by over 60% to its lowest point in last two decades month of April while import too noticed a free fall of 58%. Now after such huge crisis, businesses won’t be able to be functional and survive without manpower.“, says Sharad Kumar, President FIEO (Federation of Indian Export Organizations).
Mr Saraf expressed serious concerns over sharp decline in employment-intensive sectors of exports which will have serious ramifications for the business.
On the other hand, Mukul Tandon, President of Merchant Chamber of Uttar Pradesh, suggested the government to take immediate measures to help MSMEs, so that they can support and sustain their workforce. The decline of manpower will lead to economic pandemic which would be a bigger challenge for the country.