The exodus of migrant workers from big cities is plunging India’s factories into a crisis, Agence France-Presse reports.
An acute shortage of workers has turned the roar of machines to a soft hum at a footwear factory near New Delhi, just one of thousands in India struggling to restart after migrant workers decided to leave town during the virus lockdown.
India is slowly emerging from strict containment measures that were imposed in late March as leaders look to revive the battered economy, but manufacturers don’t have enough workers to man the machinery.
The big cities, once an attractive destination for workers from poor, rural regions, have been hit by reverse migration as millions of labourers flee back to their home villages, some uncertain if they will ever return.
Sanjeev Kharbanda, a senior executive with Aqualite Industries, which owns the footwear factory in the northern state of Haryana, said: “Sixty per cent of our labourers have gone back. How can we run a production unit with just one-third of our workforce?”
Kharbanda said the company’s sports shoe unit had been sitting idle as there were no skilled workers to operate the high-tech machines.
“We are running just one shift now. The cost of production has gone up and our profits are going down,” he said, a conveyor belt carrying semi-finished flip-flops running slowly in the background.
In Gujarat state’s Surat city – where 90% of the world’s diamonds are cut and polished – many factories have been unable to open after more than two-thirds of workers fled, Surat diamond association president Babu Kathiriya told AFP.
Meanwhile, the state’s salt refineries have started doubling salaries to lure staff back. But experts say the workers may not return anytime soon.
There are an estimated 100 million migrant workers – nearly a fifth of the labour force and contributing to an estimated 10% of GDP – across the nation of 1.3 billion people.
Many are employed as cheap labour across a vast range of sectors including textiles, construction, mines and small businesses.