Covid-19 crisis: UP sees sense on migrant workers, Maharashtra should too

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Published: May 29, 2020 3:15 AM

A shortage of workers in one state or another could result in a spike in wage costs, throwing the economics of manufacturing or construction out of gear.

At a time when the economy is in dire straits, all CMs need to make sure companies are able to source affordable labour. At a time when the economy is in dire straits, all CMs need to make sure companies are able to source affordable labour.

It is just as well that Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath has given up on the idea that other states would need permission before they employed workers from the state. While there is no doubt that migrant labour has been treated shabbily, and their story is tragic, the truth is that UP will not be able to provide its youth with the jobs they are looking for. At a time when the economy is in dire straits, all CMs need to make sure companies are able to source affordable labour. Parochial policies are not what we need now; in this context, CM Uddhav Thackeray’s asking industrial units in Maharashtra to employ locals to replace the migrants who have gone back home is unacceptable.

A shortage of workers in one state or another could result in a spike in wage costs, throwing the economics of manufacturing or construction out of gear. Already, life is hard enough for businessmen grappling with supply chain and cash flow issues; higher labour costs—which cannot be passed on to consumers in this environment—should not further pressure their finances.

Indian industry is losing the appetite to invest; challenges in recruiting labour will further diminish their interest to risk capital. Also, every job, however inconsequential it may seem, requires some knowledge, so there is no time to be wasted in training newcomers. If the economy is not to lose further steam, CMs cannot be holding back labour in their states, on any pretext, unless they are able to find them employment.

Also, fixing a minimum wage that is unreasonably high may convince workers to stay back, but is likely to deter investments. Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh have done well to relax the labour laws, but have gone somewhat overboard by not asking companies to ensure even basic facilities such as clean drinking water, and first aid. It is not surprising that the ILO has flagged the issue. Migrant labour, too, must be provided some kind of monetary support, much like farmers have been—with the bill being shared by the Centre and the two states.

Without this, there is a good chance workers won’t venture out too far away from their native villages; that is not desirable in the current context, when industry needs to ramp up production quickly, and construction needs to restart. Rebooting the economy will be difficult without enough labour. Most important, states need to welcome outstation workers because after the tragic events of the past month, migrant labour is already apprehensive of returning. Even if they do go back, it may not be in the numbers needed. Unfriendly statements of the kind made by the Maharashtra CM cannot help.

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