They have not returned: How Covid-19 has impacted labour migration in the country

The migrant workers’ lengthy stroll — from the cities they helped construct to their houses in faraway villages — outlined the primary nationwide Covid lockdown in India. Three crop cycles, half a dozen festivals and two Covid-19 waves later, a number of lakhs of those staff have nonetheless not returned. The pandemic has had a profound influence on labour migration patterns — and this might form work in rural in addition to city centres.

The agricultural-to-urban migration might be at one among its lowest ebbs, say labour ministry officers, consultants and economists ET spoke to. There was a near-10% decline in blue collar workforce shifting to cities for jobs. This is sufficient to choke the labour provide traces to main industries.

In accordance with the 2011 Census, India has 450 million inner migrants. The variety of migrant blue-collar staff — who’ve moved inter-state — is round 150 million, based on Betterplace estimates.

“The quantum of migration has dropped significantly post-pandemic. Individuals shifting to bigger cities and metros for work has fallen by practically 10%,” says Pravin Agarwala, co-founder and CEO, Betterplace, which powers the Aatmanirbhar Expert Worker Employer Mapping (ASEEM) platform, a listing of expert workforce of the central government.

This is because of a mix of things. After the traumatic return residence, many staff desire to remain again with their households and take up native jobs. The federal government’s rural employment schemes reminiscent of MGNREGA and Pradhan Mantri Rojgar Yojana assist individuals earn a livelihood nearer residence. That aside, an upsurge in rural infrastructure tasks, reminiscent of roads and highways, well being centres and different public facilities, has given jobs to staff. In the meantime, state governments are additionally filling up hundreds of posts which are mendacity vacant. Above all, authorities subsidies and advantages until Diwali and, in some circumstances, mortgage waivers have quelled the necessity for migrant labourers to return to cities instantly.

“When the primary lockdown was imposed final yr, many individuals went again to their villages. In a brief span of time, they received jobs nearer to their houses,” says DPS Negi, chief labour commissioner (central), Ministry of Labour & Employment. “Many don’t need to head again to the cities attributable to fears round Covid. They’re additionally not very positive of the job scenario in cities. So there may be an 8-9% drop within the variety of migrant staff heading again to cities for jobs,” he provides.


The federal government has earmarked practically Rs 5.5 lakh crore to be spent on numerous welfare and rural growth tasks. This, based on economists, has began a pattern of reverse migration. Greater rural spending has allayed the necessity for individuals emigrate instantly to city centres. NGOs like Jan Sahas, which work for migrant labour safety, say these welfare initiatives have reaped wealthy rewards.

“As per the Periodic Labour Power Survey 2019-20, roughly 32 million individuals moved again to agricultural sector; this interprets to a 3% web rise within the share of workers in agriculture. This has by no means occurred ever since this data-set began getting captured,” says Sachchidanand Shukla, chief economist, Mahindra Group. “Cash transfers to farmers, increased spending on rural welfare tasks and even free meals distribution helped individuals keep again. However it will change, as agriculture is just not viable for such numerous individuals. As soon as the scenario normalises, individuals will head again to cities for jobs, higher earnings and high quality of life,” he provides.

The labour drive in India contains everlasting and round migrant staff. Everlasting migrants keep in a spot for greater than a yr and return to their villages for a brief time period. This class of labourers are normally expert, with many having diplomas or ITI certificates. Round migrant staff are comparatively unskilled with a mean schooling of Class X or XII. However their jobs are interchangeable and so they usually return to their villages each five-six months.

“There may be at all times a cyclical demand for some job profiles which are largely stuffed up by round migrant staff. As an illustration, when IPL begins, there may be demand for supply boys; that is met by individuals who migrate to town for a number of months, earn and save and return. Such job profiles are seeing a provide scarcity,” says Agarwala of Higher place.

Sectors reminiscent of manufacturing, ecommerce, logistics, development and actual property are dealing with an acute labour scarcity — of about 20-25%, say job consultants and CEOs of enormous corporations. That is prompting many corporations to step up local hiring.



Sodexo, one of many largest meals and facility administration and technical service suppliers, has tied up with over 100 companions — together with some main corporates — to coach the native youth and later lengthen them employment alternatives. “There’s a sizeable discount within the migrant workforce. Coaching and empowering native youth by our train-and-hire companions is our technique to future-proof the provision of skilled workforce and handle the difficulty of labour scarcity in the long term,” says Pradeep Chavda, director, human assets (India) at Sodexo. “We’re forging related partnerships in Gujarat, Goa, Tamil Nadu and Hyderabad. Hiring regionally additionally offers a price benefit as lodging, transportation, and so on aren’t wanted.”

Others reminiscent of RPG Group’s KEC Worldwide, a number one energy transmission EPC firm, have additionally elevated their consumption of native workforce. “We’re not dealing with any important shortfall in the intervening time. Whereas some individuals could have determined to remain again and work regionally, we have now additionally stepped up native hiring to fulfill the shortfall. Hiring locals may also be cheaper, ” says Vimal Kejriwal, MD & CEO, KEC Worldwide.

Labour provide within the manufacturing and development sector has solely reached 70-80% of pre-pandemic ranges. However many roles in these sectors aren’t fungible as they require particular expertise. These sectors, which have seen a sturdy restoration and want further workforce to ramp up manufacturing, are reeling from scarcity of labour, say prime firm officers.

“Actual property sector is dealing with labour scarcity as a result of we have now finished nicely over the previous few months. We’re not getting further workforce for our tasks,” says Niranjan Hiranandani, MD of Hiranandani Group.

Take the case of the non-public safety trade, one of many largest employers of migrant blue-collar staff. It employs round 9 million individuals, 60-70% being migrants. It’s dealing with a 30% scarcity of labourers. “As extra companies open up, there may be demand for extra safety guards. However many who left the cities at first of the pandemic are discovering native jobs and a few others are cautious of working away from their houses, thus resulting in a dearth of staff in all massive cities,” says Kunwar Vikram Singh, founding father of Lancer Community and chairman of Central Affiliation of Personal Safety Trade.

Motels and eating places and MSMEs are additionally closely depending on migrant workforce, however these sectors haven’t began working full steam to this point. “Our hiring of migrant labour has dropped practically 50%, as we’re not working at full capability even now. We’re not seeing a number of migrants approaching us for work. This may very well be as a result of they haven’t come again from the villages,” says Sukesh Shetty, secretary, Indian Lodge & Restaurant Affiliation.

In MSMEs, even well-managed items in buoyant sectors reminiscent of manufacturing are operating at 60-70% capability. So, there’s a hiring pause throughout the sector. “We’re not in a position to supply jobs to lots of people. This may very well be one motive why staff are hesitant to come back to cities now; they aren’t positive if they are going to get a job,” says Mukesh Mohan Gupta, president, Chamber of Indian MSMEs.

Nevertheless, company India is hopeful {that a} full vaccination standing could reverse the pattern. India has absolutely vaccinated 23% of grownup inhabitants whereas 66% have acquired the primary dose. The motion of migrant inhabitants again to the cities may also rely upon the progress of vaccination in main provide states reminiscent of Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha, say specialists.

“The gradual progress of vaccination in lots of of those states is a serious hindrance to the return of staff. Most corporations would solely take again absolutely vaccinated individuals and that’s protecting many individuals again of their villages,” says Rituparna Chakraborty, govt vice-president, TeamLease Companies. “Staff with particular expertise reminiscent of electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and so on come from particular pockets of the nation. For these expertise, even corporations which are stepping up native hiring must depend on migrants,” says Chakraborty.

That aside, labour market specialists are of the view that many migrants need to wait and watch as there are possibilities of a 3rd wave.

“Covid and lockdown fears are making individuals reluctant to come back again to cities for jobs. However as companies develop again, and Covid fears come down, there will likely be a rush of individuals from rural India to cities,” says Hiranandani. “Agriculture alone won’t be able to supply jobs to so many individuals. Rural-to-urban migration will proceed unabated for a number of years to come back,” he provides.

Nevertheless, some are of the view that the transition from rural to city areas will come down as there are higher alternatives for staff nearer residence. Nevertheless, this needn’t create a everlasting labour scarcity, they are saying. “As tier-2 cities begin growing extra and farming turns into extra worthwhile, there will likely be additional discount of migrant workforce. The scarcity of labour will not be a long-term downside as individuals from native areas will get expert and native catchment areas will likely be created,” says Ajit Menon, former HR head of Dalmia Cement.

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