The Forgotten: The Stranded Migrant Workers

There is no section in our country that remains unaffected by the difficulties caused by the affliction that is COVID- 19, however it’s safe to assume that, the most gravely affected by the crisis are the underprivileged labourers and workers. Their agony, their pain, their ordeal cannot be expressed in words. Who amongst us cannot understand and feel what they and their families are going through.

More than 92.5% labourers, including daily wage earners, have lost work and are unemployed owing to the lockdown imposed by the country, according to a survey of migrant workers in north and central India. This is despite the labour ministry’s plea to owners and contractors not to retrench workers.

Why are the migrant workers so hard hit during lock down?

The answer is pretty simple, while many people have lost the jobs, it’s the migrant workers that have lost their only livelihood without any fall-back support. They don’t have any fixed income, health insurance ot savings. They get paid in wages, only if they work, most of them being employed in the informal sector. They are also devoid of sufficient monetary resources to sustain themselves and their families (who are dependent on them) during the unemployment period. Further, they are the only groups who have been displaced from their normal place of residence. Nearly six lakhs migrant labourers are stranded in government camps. They are more vulnerable to corona virus infection as they have repeatedly failed to observe social distancing die to their special living conditions and full dependence on public transport.

The aforementioned consequences may have the following impact if they aren’t monitored and checked by the government and the respective agencies. They might have to draw loans in order to sustain themselves with their home or land they own as the collateral. It might push them further into economic insecurity and instability. The education of their children will also be affected, even during the post lockdown period as they might be unable to afford the fees. If left unaddressed, it might put the migrant labour under tremendous mental pressure and strain, leading to a substantial rise in mental health issues in the community. It’ll also widen the gap between the rich and the poor, thus leading to increased economic inequality. There are possibilities of increased exploitation in terms of employment compensation in the post lockdown period, when a lot of people will be looking for work in an economy which was already suffering from unemployment.

How did their future become so grim?

When the Indian government announced a lockdown with just a four hours warning, large numbers of migrant workers all over the country were left stranded, with no idea of where to go and what to do. No arrangements had been made for them, whether to transport them back or to house them in shelters. As a result, there were tragic consequences. Panicked migrant workers going to buses and train stations and getting beaten by Police or being sprayed with bleach. Thousands of migrant workers trying to walk back hundreds of kilometres to their villages, with many dying on the way. I guess the decision makers seemingly forgot about the most vulnerable people while deciding, why? When they could arrange transport for pilgrims and students, why was no thought put in about what would happen to migrant workers? Why is it that only the NRIs were retrieved from affected areas? Is it because they are voiceless and they don’t have a pressure group.

Even if they were forgotten about while planning the lockdown, there was still a means to rectify the mistake. Day after lockdown, a relief package was announced by government for the vulnerable section, which ended up being too little and too late. As soon as the lockdown was announced, this section immediately lost their jobs and because of the sustenance nature of livelihood, they immediately ran out of food and basic necessity. The moment lockdown was announced, all the relief should have been announced simultaneously. The gap between the announcement of lockdown and the announcement of relief package was enough to create panic in these sections and due to uncertainty they started taking the extreme step of walking back on foot to their home. And soon the situation got out of control. Because remember, we are not talking about a handful of people, not even thousands, they are millions in number.

There was still a scope of avoiding the unfateful. All the states had enough resources and means to take care of all these workers but they failed to pacify and communicate to them. The situation came to a point that state government had to announce for hundreds of buses to carry them home in such a condition, loosing the very purpose of lockdown. The risk of people dying of hunger became believe than the outbreak itself.

Impact of COVID-19 on the Indian Workforce

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Increasing confirmed cases in India of Coronavirus had caused a drastic disruption in the lives of people. The economy is hit, and a slowdown has been expected. The lockdown has put the life in India to a standstill, and every industry is putting recruitment on hold or laying off workers and making decisions regarding pay cuts. The automotive and IT sectors are suffering the most, as there was a significant dependence on exports and imports. The economy is also being affected by the same, i.e., the supply irregularities due to modifications in international trade policies. We can look for a silver lining in this situation as the Indian industries might emerge as the major suppliers in the areas of pharmaceuticals and textiles. The significant impact is on the people running all these industries. The country is not only facing economic losses but also human resource losses. These are both physical and psychological. This is discussed further by dividing the workforce into three types – a) Daily wage workers, b) Normal Employees, c) Managers/Head of Departments/Companies.

The needs of different workers have been explained using Maslow’s Need Hierarchy theory in this article it is assumed that the conditions stated in his theory hold true.

Daily wage workers and urban poor include the people working in the agricultural sector, construction sites, car washers in a typical scenario. But with progress in technologies and companies like Uber, Ola, Zomato, etc. coming up, the delivery boys, cab drivers etc. are also people who might earn a monthly income but are still in a job with little assurance of income. Then there are mechanics, vegetable vendors, etc. with no fixed payment as well. All of the above mentioned and many others have been left with no means to earn a livelihood after the lockdown was imposed to contain COVID-19’s spread in India. The closing hotels and restaurants and little movement on the streets have left many people devoid of income.

For these people, the main aim is to earn a livelihood and secure their income for tomorrow. Their needs can be related to the first and second need defined in the Malow’s need hierarchy, i.e., physiological and safety needs. These people have not moved up and do not crave recognition in the organization as such. Most of them are not even a part of any organization as well. These people will be affected the most since there can be three possible scenarios. First being that they might become too dependent on the government aid being provided to them during the lockdown period. Second, if their locus of control is external, they might end up being depressed and let the suffering take a toll on them. Third, if their locus of control is internal, they might strive to make their situation better after the lockdown period and prepare in advance for any future pandemic.

The people who will breed on government’s aid might become lethargic and lack the motivation to do work again. They will be forced to do work after the conditions normalize, and this will cause them to be dissatisfied because of their mindset of receiving without working. The people who have an external locus of control, which encompasses most of this population because poor people might not always give priority to mindset development, will suffer the most. They will keep blaming the authorities and the external conditions and will let the pandemic disrupt their lives. The people who have an internal locus of control might try to make the best of their current situation while planning for the future.

The normal workers are the ones working in the corporate world and are related to certain organizations and are financially stable. These workers are facing layoff and pay – cut tensions as almost every organization is trying to manage finances with the economy coming

down. Some organizations have decided to not take this path such as DLF limited, which did not take a pay – cut and is not even retrenching the workforce.

Companies outside India like Tesla has decided to do the opposite. It laid off all the non- essential workers till May 4 and even took a pay cut of 10%. Around 3,000 workers were also laid off by Sephora. In India, most of the companies and start-ups are following the same path. Techolution laid off 20 workers in Telangana. Acko, an online insurance firm, laid off 50 employees. Fareportal, a travel firm based in the US, cut off on 500 workers in India.

Bounce, a transportation network company, has decided to take 20-60% pay cuts. All these measures are being taken to ensure that the organizations have finances to run their business when the conditions normalize. Some companies are taking initiatives not to lay off workers and continue working from home, but it is also a challenge only around 5% of their employees have Wi-Fi at their homes.

The people working in these organizations can be classified into three types based on their needs. First are those who still are struggling to fulfil their safety needs in the Maslow need hierarchy. Second, are those who have affiliation and esteem needs that are to be satisfied, and the third category is of those people whose self-actualization needs are too satisfied.

A relation between locus of control and motivation level can be established as people who tend to struggle in fulfilling their safety needs are usually stuck at the external locus of control. Thus, such people will feel unmotivated and distressed during the period of lockdown as their need for security won’t be fulfilled due to the retrenchment process going on in many organizations.

People who require the feeling of belongingness and are out to fulfil their esteem needs might make use of this lockdown period if they have access to the required resources. There can be two categories in these people as well. Some might spend their time leisurely, but the ones with an internal locus of control will try to improve their skillset and use the time productively.

This is also a great opportunity for people who want to satisfy their need for self-actualization as now they can serve the community and do something helpful for society. Some professionals are doing it be it situational or be it out of their sense of duty, for example, the doctors, policeman, etc.

The people who are at managing positions in the organizations have different problems altogether. That set of the workforce is influenced by their type of commitment towards their organization. The people who have an affective commitment towards the firm they work with will be the people who will help these firms to recover after the lockdown. They will be forced to think creatively so that they can sustain their finances and help the company grow. A few examples of such people are Deep Kalra and Rajesh Magow the founders of MakeMyTrip have decided to take 100% pay cut and not affect the salaries of their employees.

Then some people have a normative or continuance commitment towards the organization and might not be willing to put in efforts to contribute to the organization. They would probably plan for their secure future and their savings.

Thus, COVID-19 won’t only be impacting the population physically, but it also has left so many people psychological affected. The organizations like Sephora, are also trying to help their workers by assuring that once the conditions normalize, they might consider taking the laid-off workers back. Bridged is also taking initiatives to help employees during this time of self-isolation by making a service available so that people can talk to someone and share their problems.

There is a strong need to balance out the focus on running the organizations and taking care of the employees. Similar initiatives are required to focus and develop the workforce in India because of it one of the things the country will rely on reviving the economy after the pandemic ends.

Some measures that the organizations can take are that they can host free webinars for their employees and even for the laid-off workers to give an insight into the skills that would be required in the coming times.

There can also be awareness spread about how to take care of their mental health along with physical health. Also, there is a need to let the population staying at home right now know how essential it is to develop their skills. The silver lining in this tough situation is that we might end up with a more skilled workforce. This is because people might choose not to get into jobs for some time and pursue higher education.

The main crux of the situation is that it is necessary to address their needs keeping in mind the feasibility aspect as well because that is the essence of organizational behaviour. Human resource cannot be ignored totally to sustain organizations because even if the companies manage to use finances wisely, there would still be a need for employees to ensure future success.

Inaccessible or Untouchables?

There is more to this existence than meets the eye!

Our economy is being ruined between inefficient government and sluggish opposition, if the situation does not improve then we will become the new ‘Untouchables.’

Untouchability has been a stigma for our country for centuries. Ambedkar, who fought for his whole life, claimed that there is enough evidence to suggest that it has been going on since 400 BC and it has always been the way of Indians to live.
This is the reason why devout Hindus on one hand and committed inclusionist Gandhi, on the other hand, believed that it is good for us to end this deadly practice. And Nehru, who relied on social justice, had said that India will never reach its true height until we end the caste system and ensure equality for all Indians.

This is the motive that our constitution made untouchability illicit and considered it a punishable offence.
But is it over? No.
Untouchability is deeply ingrained in our thinking and is seen openly. Its ugliness has recently increased, which has been promoted by some political parties, who want to keep it alive to achieve ruthless majoritarianism.

Now only the lower castes, Dalits, are not suffering. In some parts of India, indigent people belonging to a particular community have become new untouchables. So in some parts, some tribes are the new untouchables, who have been left marginalized by governments to grab their land, forest and mineral wealth.

And now, after this pandemic in the country, we see a new class of untouchables is emerging. These are sick, migrant labourers, unemployed and extremely impoverished people. Their connection with the cities is broken and their villages do not want to take them back because they are unemployed and miserable and additionally there is a risk of health issues.

Today the suffering/affected people are being boycotted openly. Their wives and children are not allowed to be home quarantined as per the regulations. People are getting them out of the village, throwing them along with their family members from trains, refusing to burn in the crematorium when one dies. Dead bodies are being collected in hospital corridors. Nobody wants to accept them, not even own family. The corpses are placed next to the patients being treated. It is like a return to the fierce plague.

But, today who is the frustrated-indigent?
No, not the farmers who commit suicide every year due to poverty. Now, these dispirited poor are those who were working in our factories, offices and our homes till back in the days. It also includes small traders, food carts, autorickshaw drivers, small restaurant workers, multiplexes and security guards standing outside malls.

Viruses and lockdowns left them unemployed, homeless and nearly devastated. And now about 14 crores middle-class families have also been associated with them. According to research, their savings will end by the end of July. That is, they will be poverty-stricken.

A recent survey shows that 84 per cent of the households have suffered severe loss of income after lockdown. They are living on their savings right now. By the end of this month, with the increase in rains, many middle-class families will fall into the category of destitute.

They will also be unable to spend on treatment or meet basic family needs. They will have to leave the rented house, sell their goods and borrow money at such a rate, which will become impossible for them to repay later. They are also worried pensioners who relied on interest from the bank, as banks have reduced interest rates.

Those who counted on their children working abroad are also trapped because their children have lost their jobs or lost wages. Meanwhile, the prices of petrol and diesel are continuously increasing, while the prices should have been reduced based on the global trend. This is going to make everything expensive.

Overall, the pace of the wave is not stopping and more and more people will continue to drown.  The government is refusing to provide cash in their hands, as some other countries are doing. These are the new untouchables. Nobody has time for these and the government has the least interest in their future or prospect. Instead, govt is making hefty policies of millions for billions, which will never reach out to these people.

An economy that was ready for a better future, is being wrecked.