Fearing a possible exodus of migrant labourers in the wake of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, exporters at some of the key hubs have started exhorting their workers to refrain from leaving the factories this time around, just when order flows are improving.
Large-scale migration following a pan-India lockdown in March last year had not just wrought havoc on the workers themselves but also crippled the production lines of companies, especially in labour-intensive sectors such as textiles and garments, footwear and gems and jewellery.
Raja M Shanmugham, managing director at garment supplier Warshaw International and president of the Tirupur Exporters’ Association, told FE, “We are requesting our workers not to leave abruptly this time. We are telling them that we are there to help and there is no need for them to fear about increasing Covid cases. Their awareness level, too, has risen.”
The Tirupur cluster — with 1,000-odd units, mostly MSMEs — employs around 6,00,000 people. About a half of them are migrant labourers. It’s the country’s biggest garment hub, accounting for about a fourth of the annual apparel exports. The garment orders from the US, India’s largest market, are flowing in again.
Some of the exporters in Surat, the country’s biggest diamond hub with about 20,000 units, have also started counselling their workers. “This time around, we are better prepared to take care of the workers. They, too, are better aware of the safety parametres. Hopefully, even if the cases surge further, they won’t leave,” said a diamond exporter from Surat. Nine out of every 10 rough diamonds in the world are being cut and polished in Surat. The city is also a prominent hub of textiles.
According to an estimate by IIM-Bangalore in May last year, Surat is home to a total of almost 42 lakh migrant labourers (from 21 states and also from 33 districts of Gujarat), who work in diamond cutting, textile manufacturing, dyeing and printing, power loom and embroidery, among other industries. About 60% of the migrants work as contractual labourers and daily wagers, it said.
While exporters say there is no plan yet to incentivise workers for not leaving, they believe it would be a win-win for both, as labourers, too, need money after almost a year of paltry income.
Exporters apprehend that if migrant workers start leaving, it could impair their production again at a time when order flow from key markets has witnessed an uptick. For instance, exports of gems and jewellery surged 79%, year-on-year, in March, while garment exports rose 28% and leather exports by 22%.
While the rise in March was aided by a favourable base, it is still an encouraging sign. This is because exports from labour-intensive sectors had been hit harder by the pandemic than the rest. Overall exports jumped by a record 58% in March and helped narrow a contraction in FY21 to just about 7% to almost $291 billion.
Exporters in biggest garment hub of Tirupur are promising migrant labourers, estimated at 3 lakh, all possible help
Some Surat diamond exporters have urged migrants not to leave, just when orders are picking up
Surat is home to about 42 lakh migrant labourers, who work in industries, including diamond and textiles
Exporters say it would be a win-win for both, as cash-starved labourers, too, need money