Workers flocking to Kerala in search of jobs

Kerala, which largely depends on remittances of around two million Malayalis working in the Gulf, has now become a thriving job market for workers hailing from Assam, West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.

Last Updated: Nov 14, 2011, 14:48 PM IST

Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala, which largely
depends on remittances of around two million Malayalis working
in the Gulf, has now become a thriving job market for workers
hailing from Assam, West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.

Though their exact numbers is not clear, the Labour
department estimates them to be around 20 to 30 lakh, which
includes skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled hands.

Brought to the state by labour contractors, there are
also those who come in search of better wages from Jharkhand,
Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, and are engaged
in sectors like construction, hotels, footwear, plywood
making, lottery selling and quarry and brick kilns.

Mahinder, a 28-year-old from Jharkhand, has been working
as a supplier in a local hotel since over a year because he
gets more pay than what he could expect in his home state.

"I earn around Rs 3,500 a month here. We used to get not
more than Rs 1,000 in my state. Besides payment, we are given
lodging and food. Many of my friends work in hotels and
construction sites in Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi," he told.

`Migrant workers,` as they are known here, are preferred
by employers since their wages are cheaper compared to locals
and there is a perception that they are willing to work harder
and devote longer hours than the highly unionised native
workers.

The trend that has been seen is that most men of the
settlers work in construction and hotel sectors and quite a
few women work in quarries and as domestic maids.

In the construction sector, labourers are paid at least
Rs 250 a day, which is less than the Rs 450-500 demanded by
locals.

The flow of professionals to IT campuses like Infopark
and Technopark and the increasing demand for North Indian
dishes has also caused the large-scale employment of cooks
from the upper reaches of the country and the mushrooming of
fast food joints.

A security dimension has also been seen as it is often
difficult for employers to ascertain the nationality of the
workforce, which sometimes include illegal immigrants from
Nepal and Bangladesh.

Samar, who has migrated from West Bengal, works at a
construction site near Technopark and says he saves a good
chunk of his wages to send home to his family.

However, Anandi, a social researcher who studies migrant
labour in Kerala believes that these workers are exploited by
middlemen and job agents.

"Employers claim migrant labourers are provided reasonable
pay or decent accommodation. The reality is that most of them,
especially construction workers, sleep in shacks at worksites
and are not provided enough food, clean drinking water or
toilet facilities," she said.

Under the state`s rules, each worker coming to Kerala has
to register in a local labour office and agents who bring them
have to pay Rs 1,000 refundable deposit per head. But, labour
contractors and middlemen manipulate the numbers to pay less
bond amount, often making the exact count of number of
migrants difficult.

Considering this, the Kerala government recently
announced a plan to bring in a registration system for migrant
job seekers.

"This will help us keep a databank of migrant workers
coming to Kerala. It will also help state agencies keep a tab
on them and ensure they are not exploited by contractors and
employers," Labour Minister Shibu Baby John said.

"Under the scheme, we plan to give photo ID cards to such
workers. Labour department staff now visit each work site,
count the number of migrants and take their photos. We have
already registered 20,000 labourers so far," he said.

The government also plans to set up labour camps in major
cities like Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode with the
co-operation of employers.

Criminal cases involving outside workers and clashes with
locals have also been reported in recent times.

Trade unions have been demanding that migrant workers be
treated fairly, though they have yet organised them.

The workers` lifestyle can also be seen in Kerala`s
society and lifestyle, with eateries and wayside dhabas
providing north Indian food to cater to their demands.

There are also instances of buses, hotels and shops
displaying multi-lingual signboards in view of their growing
presence in the state, researchers said.

PTI