It is the big estate-owner in Kerala who is worst hit by the runaway rubber tapper. Most small holdings (under two hectares) manage with family labour. One may recall that following labour shortage due to viral fever epidemic and untimely rains, rubber production had fallen short of target by 19%.Against the Rs 125 (per 100 trees) daily tapping wages (plus Rs 50 in other rubber-processing jobs) in Kerala rubber farms, construction wages in Tamil Nadu fetch at least Rs 300 per day. Cement demand in Tamil Nadu in 2007 was 5% higher than the national average, indicating the phenomenal growth in its construction sector.Although Tamil labour had started leaving the rubber plantations last year, this was partly compensated by the inflow of workers from Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal to Kerala. Earlier, rubber farms were dominated by local labour, but since second generation of tappers refused to go for rubber tapping in Kerala, in several pockets like Poonjar and Erattupettah had resorted to training migrant Tamil labour.
This exercise is not too winning, if Rubber Boards experience is any indicator. Migrant labour from Bihar and Orissa too seem to be diffident about getting rubber-skills. The inflow of batches to 12 training centres under Rubber Board has seen much better days, says a Board official in charge of training.