Urban Railways

Migrant Workers Begin to Return

Around 60,000-odd migrant labourers have been lured to Mumbai Metropolitan Region and 15,000 others to the rest of the state over the past week as economic activities resumed. But this time, they are laying down the rules—at least partly.

Desperate to get their projects off the ground, contractors have given them assurance that they will be taken care of this time around: their transport to the city is fully paid for, meals and accommodation are being provided for free at or near the worksites, and some have even promised to arrange for their transport back home in case of lockdown, to return.

With the money that would have gone into paying for their rent and meals, the workers said they are now able to save around 25 per cent more.

One of the contractors said, although overhead costs have increased by 25 per cent—to pay for the migrants’ stay—such a move was necessary to resume work. “Their pay is the same as before. But their savings are higher and they are also being paid for overtime.”

Many workers have also been paid in advance. Sonu, a labourer who is working at the Mahindra and Mahindra Metro railway station construction site between Kandivali and Malad on the Western Express Highway, and a bunch of friends who came with him on a train from Motihari in Bihar a week ago have been paid a sum of Rs 8,000-10,000 each by the contractor to help build trust.

“I had left the city in a packed truck two months ago. But there was no job back at home. We had nowhere to go but to start looking for jobs elsewhere. When the contractor approached us, promising to take care of us, we thought it was a good deal. Yes, we are worried about contracting Covid-19 but we are more worried about not having anything to feed ourselves” he said.

For some of the migrants, though, it’s their first stint in the city. Chotu, who accompanied Sonu, said desperate labourers are going wherever there is work. “I used to work in Ahmedabad for Rs 100 a day. A friend told us about this job. So we agreed to take it on.”

Although the workers have started trickling in, the state government has no data on which sectors are benefiting the most. A senior labour department official said an internal portal has been launched on which district collectors’ offices have to provide details about migrant labourers. “But so far, we have not received any information.”