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Businesses In India Face Another Challenge: Labour Crisis

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.
Construction site (representative image)
The government has allowed construction activities, but there is a shortage of labour force.

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.

Migrants crammed in a van trying to get to their homes.
Over 6 million workers squeezed in whatever mode of transportation they got to reach their homes.

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.

Workers on Kanpur border before Lucknow blocked it's borders
Where in the world a citizen of the country is called a ‘migrant’?

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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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