Sunday, 2 October, 2022
HomeOpinionDear intellectuals, migrant workers will come back. Here are the five reasons

Dear intellectuals, migrant workers will come back. Here are the five reasons

Industrialisation is key because agriculture remains highly unproductive with 43.2 per cent share of total employment but contributes only 14.6 per cent to GDP.

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The human tragedy of migrants continues but the rising crescendo of intellectual outrage surprises us. What did you anticipate? India’s labour market has behaved exactly as expected in a crisis, given its peacetime pre-existing conditions. Every doctor will tell you that the time for treating pre-existing conditions is not the emergency room but the decades before you need triage. Covid-19 is not a passing shower but climate change; it will force the structural reforms that will explode the creation of productive and better paid jobs.


Also read: Industry needs to reset relations with workers, says Nirmala Sitharaman


Migrants will come back

While Covid makes short-term modelling impossible, will migrants be like PG Woodhouse’s cat who sat on a hot stove never to sit on a cold one again? Or will migrants recognise the wisdom of Urdu poetry, “Majboori hai saab, muskurana padta hai”?  We’d like to challenge the noisy notion that migrants won’t come back based on five mitigating factors.

First is materiality. There are about 7 crore inter-state migrants of whom 4 crore are in the labour force. Quasi-official estimates suggest that about 1 million of them have headed home; maybe another 1 million are waiting for transport or sitting on the fence with a decision. 0.2 crore, or 37 per cent of Norway’s population, is a small sliver of our labour force of 50 crore.

Second is a small frictional wage premium: a temporary mismatch between demand and supply that distorts wages. The confusing lockdown lifting is creating small pockets of wage premiums of 10-20 per cent for workers willing to join sales, customer services and logistics immediately.

The third is employer capacity utilisation. The reopening of corporate India is more like a gentle sunrise rather than a bulb that switches on; employer capacity utilisation polled from 25 per cent last week to 50 per cent this week.

Fourth is that most inter-state migrants ran away from economic wastelands; their remittances were an important source of income, self-esteem and respect. Necessity will drive them in search of work once again.

Fifth, when the lockdown lifts, panic will subside. The homing instinct is human, but was being amplified by the inability to head home. As transport links get restored, some of the panic or urge to head home will calm down. There will be many constraints to a full economic recovery, but labour availability will not be one of them.


Also read: With hiring set to resume, worst seems to be over for India’s jobless: Staffing firm Quess


The reforms opportunity

The current migrant pain need not be needless; we can change the pre-existing conditions that force our migrant workers into low-productivity and poorly-remunerated work. Formal employers have been more resilient in the lockdown because their higher productivity gives them access to debt and equity.

Of India’s 6.3 crore enterprises, 1.2 crore don’t have an office, 1.2 crore work from home, only 10 lakh pay for social security and only 19,500 have a paid-up capital of more than Rs 10 crore.

Urbanisation is important because productive jobs tend to cluster. New York has the same GDP as Russia with only 6 per cent of the people and 0.00005 per cent of the land. India mispriced land early in its development because we only have 52 cities with more than a million people (China has 375) and 6 lakh villages (2 lakh have less than 200 people).

Financialisation helps enterprises be more productive. Research suggests that a 100 per cent credit-to-GDP ratio for countries is sustainable. Our 50 per cent credit-to-GDP ratio is not only low but credit to small enterprises is particularly uneven.

Industrialisation is key because agriculture remains highly unproductive with 43.2 per cent share of total employment but contributes only 14.6 per cent to the GDP. Research suggests that non-farm jobs tend to be more productive, of better quality and pay better.

Finally, our investments in social security and human capital. We need to streamline and update our labour code to have clear, enforceable laws. It’s not about having more or less labour laws, but effective ones. Our social security reforms need to be revamped to help the vulnerable.

The human capital generated by schools, universities and vocational training is key to a 21st century economy. Yet of the 2.65 crore kids who take the Class X exam every year, 1.05 crore fail. We only have five lakh apprentices, and just 7 of our 950 universities were licensed for online learning till last week.

It is shameful that India’s labour market shock absorbers since 1947 have been unorganised enterprises and farm employment. In 1958, Nobel Laureate Arthur Lewis wrote in Economic and Political Weekly that the main remedy for farmer’s ills must always be fewer farmers. China’s prosperity–and 35 minimum wage increases–over the last two decades has been driven by a massive farm-to-factory transition. The shameful supply of vulnerable migrants will continue until India reduces her agricultural employment from 43 per cent to 5 per cent. This doesn’t need outrage but calls for reforms in the following areas: labour, city, civil service, compliance, banking, and social security.

Manish Sabharwal and Sabina Dewan. The writers are co-founders of Teamlease Services and Just Jobs Network. Views are personal.

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60 COMMENTS

  1. This block is not mentioned all about Migrant Labour and Corporate industry true relation. My opinion is little different because covid 19 period is highly unexpected time for all of us, labour is not a dead thigs , Every employer have their responsibility to take care of Labour and provide the Health Wealth and Security for them because Human Capital important for company. Labour is Assets for corporate not Capital .,Asstes need Maintenance and care . Labour are capable to earn ,it’s not depending upon the location ,they are hard worker they have legal Right and fundamental right provided by the Indian Constitution to live their life with Dignity.
    Conclusion is that if company wants their labor back in their Factory so they have to provide them proper HEALTH , WEALTH AND SECURITY..

  2. More than the best of educated predictions, an intuition will prove to be the truth !
    And truth will be bitter ! The authors have given their view based on intuition and desrve to be complimented !
    Sentiments are shortlived and often are away from reality ! Migrants came in search of jobs leaving their sentiments behind !
    From hardly Rs 60 per day in their native lands to Rs 700 a day , which helped their families at home ! There is no way the parent states are equipped to provide the same livelihood at such a short notice !

  3. This is an utterly rubbish article without delving deep into … say for example what would happen if farming is reduced to 5% of the economy. In the age of automation, the ratio of what an industry can produce vs the size of the workforce has been increasing exponentially. Industries need lesser and lesser workers to produce the same amount of goods. New York inspite of generating so much wealth employees so few people (your own statement). If there are no buyers, they are no producers. You can move 95% of work force out of farms but will there be buyers for all the goods and services they produce ??

    You are nonchalantly assuming lesser farmers per acre would mean more profit for the farmers. But look at farmers in USA. They are in miserable state as well inspite of having vast stretches of farming land. The issue with farmers is they have fallen into debt ridden cycle of mechanisation and chemical fertilisers giving back the control to the big corporates where they buy these supplies from. It is not because they are too many.

    I am appalled that such an article is published in an age where economists are feeling that capitalism is failing because it doesn’t seem to have addressed two key issues – Uneven distribution of wealth, and degradation of environment.

    To conclude, I will disable my accounts with TeamLease and Just Jobs and will encourage my friends to not use these two platforms.

  4. some percentage would come back .. look at SS diktat constitute bureau to induct locals … these SS think local have all the skills ready to like plug and play… they will have skill and expertise over night if SS leaders touch/pat they will abridge 5 year experience training in 5 days … I feel productive or product producing assets may move out of labor using States like Maha, Gujarat, TN . Karnataka… to labor supplying area coRONA is disruption what form disruption takes remains to be seen

  5. Ridiculous, immigrant are humans too, treating them just as a commodity is utter corporatocracy , there are not just numbers,
    And
    Foolish to compair Russian GDP to New York and Chinese development method to India, number don’t speak for everything , and more over our GDP calculation is rigged by Corporates,

    And farmers , wish every farmer thinks just like the author and gives up farming for better income , let’s see what happens , bloody fool , we eat food , not machines.

  6. This Modiform Babucracy view of India’s marginal unskilled labour as an expensable slave like commodity is atrocious. They too have a right to human dignity, freedom and quality of life. The Indian State not withstanding.

  7. All your five points are more of wishes than actual reasons. Will they come back really ? Not before September I think. Will that be before the MSMEs are totally broken? Again I don’t think so? Larger enterprises which can afford to pay a premium as you in one of your points will take away the available Labour. The smaller ones will suffer and shut down. The immigrant migration was poorly handled and no incentives were given to encourage them to remain. Disaster management at its worst. No entry or exit strategy. Just knee jerk reactions.

  8. The question is not if the migrant labourers would return, what we need to answer currently is how to send them back home safe. Despite, the so called efforts, made by our Central and State governments, 70% are yet to return. We have failed miserably as a society to give them their due and an article like this is only a poor attempt to intellectualise the whole point. I wish this article could help them in some form. Not sure of the purpose of writing this article.

  9. I’m sorry to disagree. The guest workers may not return, at least for a few years. They feel cheated by all and sundry. They were workers. Yes they under cut the wage and worked like donkeys for pittance. Yet they worked with dignity. But coronavirus exposed the ground reality. The workers were cheated by their masters and governments. They almost became beggars. They went back to their villages only to teach a lesson to the unscrupulous masters. This collective exodus will increase the wages. The masters will be forced to shell out much more than before. At least till 2025 the problem of labor can’t be solved in industrial areas and metros. The hotel industry will be the biggest loser..

  10. There must be a solution for the migrant workers not to go back to their villages under emergency situations. They have to be taken care of for 4 to 6 months by the employers or the government under such situations. And it is possible.

  11. These two writers claim that industry is the answer but both of them have given no figures how much employment is given by the industry, nor its contribution to the GDP, whereas they have dished out figures for agriculture, when in MODI era data is not being collected and most of it is manipulated. So what is the use of bashing intellectuals? Ask pointed questions to the planners and the government’s agencies.

  12. The same question bothered me on 16th March when I interacted migrant workers employed in my office. We had to follow instructions from Tamil Nadu Government that we must ensure social distancing in our premises and prepare our human resources only for emergency services. There were about 20 migrant workers from north India and authority tried their best that they have to leave as soon as possible and better head for their home and they can come back once the lockdown is over. Obviously they were shocked but they finally trusted us and left for their home same day itself. Ofcourse I hope that they will come back once transport system is normal but they may try to find a job near to their home states rather than coming all the way to south as they must have heard horrific stories and treatment that local administration did to them. So here the impression that they have about a host state matters more. Kerala and Tamil Nadu are overall handled migrant workers better than Maharashtra and Gujarat. Still I believe several high labour industry will suffer and it may loose out its edge to other states that have local source for hard working skilled personals. These migrant workers are skilled and trained for certain type of work. So a lateral movement of industries to north India is not very unlikely.

  13. Dear Dumb writers..
    People are not worried whether the migrants will return or not. Ofcourse they will return someday because there is no choice. But They are worried about the current inhumane treatment of them at the hands of the blundering government..

  14. This is one of the worst articles I’ve read here. Sweeping assumptions, conveniently ignoring imminent problems and making erroneously optimistic predictions. It reeks of privilege, and is an absolute trash piece. Even contradicts itself at some point. Overall pathetic.

  15. After all this hardship, humiliation, disgrace, and physically and mentally shattered, we all
    want migrant workers to return back. Shame on us.. Just imagine how much pain and agony they have go through if they ever have come back by same roads which they are scaling now by bare foot. It’s their choice whether to come back or not, but we thinking and questioning of their choice of coming back, shows how mentally sick we have all become. Let’s pray that they become Atmanirbhar at their hometowns.. Amen…

      • Totally prejudiced, will not listen to the voice of reason, more interested in injecting poison in the body politic.

    • This is an act of insanity, callousness and washing their hands of the problem. Exposes the inhumanity in all of us.

  16. The obvious doesn’t require an Economic P.hd to unravel this! Than anyone, BJP and Modi hold this view of them: “the unorganised, slavery, migrant fleet of herds have no option”! That’s why BJP is unnerved! Migrants’ return and their repeat voting to BJP is taken for granted. So, Modi is clear: don’t ‘waste’ money by helping these ‘downtroden’!. ‘EXPLOIT’ is BJP’s inhuman strategy, for, they consider them mostly as SC/STs!

    • Dear Mr. Selvaraj, This class was created by your masters and you will remain a slave to them still you change your sick mentality

  17. My opinion is just different. For last 42 years in mining always worked with above 1000 labours. In the last 20 yrs we could machnise the working but dependency is always there. In the beginning of season we send our team to their villages and try our best to convince and pacify. Look their NEED is very little, with no greed to earn extra. Largely they are satisfied. But this time during lockdown their sentiment is hurt. They are v touchy. It is art to handle them. Being ceo of the company I personally handle them. As such comparing to other mines we are fortunate to retain them and also their new generation. If they come back it ‘ll be good. But I don’t think good percentile it ll not be 50%. That time theory of demand and supply ‘ll work. Bonus and other incentives to increased. Industries ‘ll not have any say or control on work output. The contractors ‘ll play major roll. They ‘ll demand better commission. To regain their confidence ‘ll take time. Word of mouth publicity a cycle takes min 6 months.

    • Fully agree with the experience and views of mr Gupta. It is very easy to find faults with any system or the govt may be of course any party . The migrant labourers are of disorganised sector majority of them may be daily wagers arranged by the small contractor who may be one of them and may have got them from the villages. The press on the basis of freedom of press and possibly TRPor their political leaning has failed to give correct picture rather it has accentuated the already grim situation. Some of the video clips repeatedly shown by the press are unrealistic may have arranged. How it is possible to pull a suitcase with a child hanging over it for long distance by a middle aged woman.? Can a young journalist do it him self and pull the suitcase with a child on top of it even for 100 M .? No simply no.
      Being from unorganised sector these labourer had no leader who could convince them to stay back wherever they were. There was a panic an mob mentality which is very difficult to control.
      As far as their going back is concerned they will certainly go back . Life in village without proper employment is extremely difficult and such a large population can not survive without job . Right now the state govts are promising employment to these people shifted from the metros and industrial hubs of the country but it is not possible . If the state govt were capable to provide jobs to their youth why did they leave their homes.
      Now the steps will have to be taken to motivate the youth to join their job wherever they were employed . Things could be worst and the life must go on. Only lesson they must learn is that wherever they are working they must have reserve capacity to sustain themselves for at least one or two months . It must be inculcated in to them.as a positive habit.

  18. Only few people may come back but majority will not along with unemployment they have greater fear of death due to deseas….
    They will try to settle in agriculture field .
    If you look into history of London same thing has happened. And now govt is giving free ration which will help them to survive…..
    If there is a medicine then things may change

  19. Migrants coming back and industrialists having confidence in the central government and its decision making, planning and execution, is under suspicion.
    Will there be another wave of 8 PM decisions of shock and awe? This is what is a big stumbling block.
    Being in touch with the small businesses on the ground is another story. I am a service provider in this industry at the accounting and government relations level.
    My clients a preferring to stay PAUSED.

    • V right. The rumours abt 8 hrs 12 hrs not good at this hour. Right said ant cent govt.

    • You are driven by hate for Hindus & BJP., Without any logic or sense. You eat free stinking pork chops in the church

  20. A sane article, lighting up atleast a remote part of the brain. Something. different & refreshing against all the pessimistic, demoralising & enforced chest thumping picturised & thrust upon the humanity by our so called intellectuals….Migrants all over the world are no different & also the corona pandemic is very different….indeed…wander why is the print unable to post a simple, non-abusive comment

  21. A sane article, lighting up atleast a remote part of the brain. Something. different & refreshing against all the pessimistic, demoralising & enforced chest thumping picturised & thrust upon the humanity by our so called intellectuals….Migrants all over the world are no different & also the corona pandemic is very different….indeed.

  22. The writers are fortunate to lead their lives as they do and have no idea of what it is to be peasant in India who needs to put food on the table for their family. In the entire article the perspective seems to be looking at these poor fellow citizens as a resource in the traditional economic model among capital and raw material. Devoid of compassion and crass

  23. Poverty is a curse , a handicap, a compulsion, a choiceless option. So the hapless Migrant labour will return , eventually. But the humongous tragedy is also an opportunity for the Rulers, to create a modicum of Social security to these unfortunate souls. Otherwise, the huge public emotional toll , the tragedy has generated will go waste.

  24. Yes it’s true,, migrant workers may or may not come back. Its upto them,, b
    But I requests the writers and commenter that please do not make fun of these migrant labourers.
    If every state govts builds infra structures in their own states and create opportunities of employments generations,, like industries,, plants, etc, why these North Indian labourers comes to South India or even Mumbai Delhi etc.. Government’s and businesses houses should start industries to utilise these valuable human source in their own states.
    But please help them instead of predictions.
    Sorry if anything hurts anybody..

  25. Logically makes sense but humanly it stinks !!!! Humans are not commodities that are easily available for your use and throw elitist culture.

  26. Sure they can come back. As already mentioned in the article, after all they had a need to move far, far away from their homes to earn a livelihood, didn’t they? They did it once… they’ll do it again.
    Except…people talk. People will listen to people in their villages. They’ll hear the horror stories of some. They will then embellish the same horror stories (X10).
    At least, the ones that underwent the ghetto-ing, the stigma, the less than human treatment at the hands of others, they will want to live and work in a familiar state, that of the spoken language. They will want to work in the same district, or at worst, in their own state. Maybe with less money, but death is preferred in one’s own land rather than in a foreign one.
    Sure they’ll come back. Eventually. But that lag may impact capacity utilisation.

    • The same question bothered me on 16th March when I interacted migrant workers employed in my office. We had to follow instructions from Tamil Nadu Government that we must ensure social distancing in our premises and prepare our human resources only for emergency services. There were about 20 migrant workers from north India and authority tried their best that they have to leave as soon as possible and better head for their home and they can come back once the lockdown is over. Obviously they were shocked but they finally trusted us and left for their home same day itself. Ofcourse I hope that they will come back once transport system is normal but they may try to find a job near to their home states rather than coming all the way to south as they must have heard horrific stories and treatment that local administration did to them. So here the impression that they have about a host state matters more. Kerala and Tamil Nadu are overall handled migrant workers better than Maharashtra and Gujarat. Still I believe several high labour industry will suffer and it may loose out its edge to other states that have local source for hard working skilled personals. These migrant workers are skilled and trained for certain type of work. So a lateral movement of industries to north India is not very unlikely.

    • This is one of the worst articles I’ve read here. Sweeping assumptions, conveniently ignoring imminent problems and making erroneously optimistic predictions. It reeks of privilege, and is an absolute trash piece. Even contradicts itself at some point. Overall pathetic.

  27. Migrants will return to Gujarat,Punjab,Maharashtra and other states because they are the ‘REAL’ powerhouse of our economy not the locals.Locals in the named and others feel themselves superior and do not fill the gaps left by exodus of migrants.This phenomena is also present in most countries across US,Canada,Europe,Australia and Africa.

  28. At last an article with encouraging, optimistic and realistic depiction of the possible scenario, once lockdown is lifted. The labour who set out to return are a fraction of the estimated 12 crore migrants population in India. Had the state governments hosting these workers been more pro active, in convincing them of their support, most of them would have stayed back. However these workers will go back, albeit after a period of rest and recharge, both mentally and physician. And they will return, being forced by economic reasons, the very same reasons for which they left in the first place. Nothing has changed to elicit a different response.
    To listen to the so called armchair journalists and left intellectuals, it would seem as if the apocalypse is here, and our country should be ready by laying down and submitting to our fate. Atrociously wrong opinion, based solely on their flights of Marxist imagination. And we know where such opinion end. On the dung heap.

    • Same logic, same thought, same reform,same propaganda but no lesson learned from pandemic but wishlist of same unconscious and conscious vicious cycle of so called reform for many years without any change of shabby militant intellect and passion

  29. One can hardly disagree to what writers has argued, While going for a farm to factory transition in a big way, danger is always there for a ruthless industrialization , which is quite evident in China. And as far as reforms are concern, along with following areas i.e. labour, city, civil service, compliance, banking, social security etc. focus should be equally on education/vocational training and public health. With out these 2 crucial factors dream for transition would never turn into reality.

  30. The build up of the migrant work force in urban India was the human trafficking by the the organized gangs of the criminal brokers and the labor union leaders with the blessing of the Political masters and the colluding corrupt babus, all of them on the take from the India Inc.
    They were systematically exploiting the poor and enriching themselves. Always asking more and more in the name of the poor and pocketing it themselves.
    The result was an inefficient industry incapable of standing up to competition any where in the world. The politicians obliged the goons, babus, and the industry by making laws such that the ORGANIZED LOOT AND THE LEGAL PLUNDER continued in the protected market.
    Just as the De-Mo broke the back of the of a lot things and beings, the return of the migrant labor will break the back of this unholy nexus.
    Hopefully the returning labor will not be in flood A) because there are more and better opportunities in the rural India B) They are now better equipped to make use of the opportunities because of the urban exposure and skills C) They are now aware of the down side as well.
    The returning labor force will be better quality,more productive and more expensive as well. Who will no longer be willing to work on peanuts.

    • You do live in an insulated bubble without the touch with reality. The majority of the workers who set out, are in the unorganized sector, and are directly employed by small units. When one gets employment, he informs his friends and relatives of the opportunity, and the cycle goes on. And the wages are quite good, since they have to support themselves as well as send the maximum amount to their families. To do this they sacrifice their comforts and live as many to a room as possible, to save on rent. So don’t go on a tangent about extraneous reasons, which are true in themselves, but not applicable in the present scenario.
      They will go back after a period, as there is no other option. The reasons for them going out have not changed and will force them to go back again.
      There is a lot of talk of rural industries. Pray who will be willing to invest? These migrant workers are the best bet to start MSMEs, given their acquired skills. But do they have the entrepreneurial drive?

  31. One of the dubious benefits of reverse migration is that it will reduce urban congestion and stress on urban infrastructure. Ideally, job opportunities in rural India need not be limited to agricultural labour. Agro based industries too provide job opportunities at places close to where agro produces are grown. This should be encouraged. Anecdotal evidences from interviews shows that many migrants have vowed never to return to “shahars”. In due course, attraction of higher wage may draw them back to cities. But, this time over, they will be careful to demand assure themselves of basic amenities. They won’t live in slums. Rest assured of that. It will add to the cost of urbal labour. Suspending labour laws for three years is a bad idea. India has secured labour welfare after struggle of almost a century. This suspension will undo all that work. Unscrupulous and greedy employers will be empowered thereby the exploit the labourers with poor wages and worse working conditions. None of you seem to have worked in Industries.

  32. I never understood the term intellectuals. If someone uses intellect ( derived from education, research, inborn IQ etc) to come to a conclusion or thought is it harmful for humanity or a nation ? Is low IQ a desirable trait among patriots or you are an intellectual if your views differs from mine and current majoritarian views!

    • No offence bro. It is a sarcastic take on the left leaning folks. Observe they always refer to themselves, or are referred to by the main stream media as Intellectuals, in the many joint letters, petitions, submissions, exhortations and award wapasi melas. Nothing to do with us ordinary folks who also use out intellect to agree or disagree, without labelling it.

      • I still don’t understand why left leaning people are to be derided. More than half of the world is governed by people who call themselves leftist or socialist . Most of them have better per capita income than us. If you google you will know about it.

      • Any one who has knowledge of understanding of things and awareness is an intellectual.they are the voice of the poor and disadvantaged.those who are averse to talking about the poor and poverty deride them.the poor can’t speak for themselves.some one has to.

    • Please note it’s always ” so callled intellectual”, i.e those that have acquired knowledge but not wisdom.

  33. Migrants may come back, as they have no choice. But the recipient states have to learn from the past mistakes. They have to keep a detailed record of all the migrants in their states. Probably, most of them would be having bank accounts. These details should also be preserved. Direct transfer into their accounts can be done if the data is available. These are probably contract or unorganised labor. The state should have a department to keep the details of the labor inflow into their states. This should be made mandatory.

  34. Yes, Manish, I do agree with you. Once their emotional need is met and after spending a little time at home. They will back into cities for work but with more salary & comforts seeking from the employers, especially the Real Estate Guys. Lo, they will get it. A minuscule of them may stay back at their respective villages with their savings & may put it to work for the local petty business.

    But once they fail or had a moderate success then they may put their near & dear ones to take care of their petty business and back to cities to work.
    Thanks
    Nagesh Rao

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