As lockdown eases and offices and factories resume operations, they are staring at labour shortage as migrant workers continue going back to their hometowns.
From security guards at offices to delivery boys for e-commerce companies, the shortage is being felt across sectors.
The shortage, expected to last for four-eight months, may last even longer impacting the ecosystem, say staffing firms and blue collar employers.
Migrant labour landscape and COVID-19
While migration of workers has been happening over decades, growth of the gig economy that created more job opportunities, only furthered it. According to a report by BetterPlace, a blue collar management platform, close to 21 lakh jobs created across various sectors such as e-commerce, security, facilities, beautician, maintenance and logistics in FY20. The five southern States accounted for about 40 percent of these jobs, the report added.
Migrants from States such as Bihar, Odisha, Assam and Uttar Pradesh moving to cities and States in search of work. They earn about anywhere between Rs 12,000 to Rs 13,000 per month on average.
While traditional sectors such as manufacturing and infrastructure continue to be one of the largest employers of the informal workforce, more number of them began to take up variety of jobs of securities, carpenters, plumbers, delivery boys and housekeeping staff.
As businesses shut down and economic activity came to a standstill at the back of COVID-19 by March end, they were the first ones to be laid off as they were mostly contract workers. According to an employer who hires migrant workers, demand came down by 60 percent in the last two months alone.
What happened then?
As many lost jobs, most went home or are waiting to go home. Rituparna Chakraborty, co-founder, Teamlease Services, a staffing firm, said, “It is the fear, uncertainty and peer pressure that is forcing them to go back home.”
This is hardly a surprise given that lockdown has not been kind to migrant labourers. Without a job, they were left to sustain for themselves. Thousands walked home and dozens died on the way. Pravin Agarwala, co-founder, BetterPlace, a blue-collar management platform, estimates that close to 10 million people were impacted because of the lockdown.
There are jobs, but no workers
However with lockdown easing, demand is seeing a recovery, the fastest in e-commerce and food delivery. But there are not just enough people. Chakraborty pointed out that the case of e-commerce firms who were unable to deliver essentials goods due to lack of delivery personnel.
After e-commerce, offices would need more security and facility staff as well. With stringent protocols, a company needs to increase security checks and clean multiple times a day. Even in factories operating with less than 30 percent capacity, they are unable to fill in the gap.
With the majority of the migrants going home, Alok Kumar, Director – Sales, Account Management & Global Accounts, ManpowerGroup India, a staffing firm, said that in the short term there will be a dearth of workers. Agarwala of BetterPlace pegs the shortage of labour to last between four to eight months or longer if they choose not to come back.
So where will the labour come from?
Some of the migrant labourers have chosen to stay back. These workers might be trained in a particular job like plumbing or construction work. So, they need to be trained in a different skill so that they can be deployed where they are needed. Reskilling the workforce would be important and necessary, Agarwala added.
In addition, due to COVID-19, locals working in malls, retail shops and restaurants are likely to face job losses. According to a survey by Azim Premji University, the country has seen close to 67 percent loss in employment already.
“Some of these jobs that locals did not want to do earlier, they will take it up now since they want to earn,” pointed out Agarwala.
What will also happen is that people from nearby districts will now take on these jobs as the demand in their locale comes down. For instance, if there are opportunities in Chennai people who lost jobs from in and around the State capital would now move here.
Can it last?
It is unclear, say employers. Most expect the situation to normalise in 12-18 months and migrants are likely to come back due to lack of jobs in the respective states.In case they don’t return, Chakraborty said individual States will have to think about how to create employment opportunities for them within their geography. “Maybe this will push States to think about employment generation locally,” she added.