Migrants in UP pack their bags as former employers lay out red carpet for their return

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Vikram Rajput, a native of Mawai village in Jhansi, is ready to get back to work. He is happy since he had never imagined that it would be possible to get his job back within five months of losing it during the Covid-19 lockdown.

He is not only getting his job back but also has a red carpet welcome laid out by his employer, who has sent his representative to Rajput’s village with a van to bring him back to Gujarat with other workers who had returned to the village after the factory closed down during the nationwide lockdown announced by the central government on March 24 to fight the Covid 19 pandemic.

“I worked in a rubber slipper factory located near Ahmedabad. After the factory closed down, the owner expressed inability to pay wages. With shattered dreams and meager savings, I travelled hundreds of kilometers along with other workers to reach home in mid-April. I feared I would never be able to earn decent money and improve the living standard of my family and provide quality education to my children,” said Rajput.

Rajput and his friends from the factory got registered as MNREGA labourers back in the village. It helped them earn Rs 200 per day and the district administration used to supply rice, yet it was barely enough for the survival of the eight members in Rajput’s family.

“I was earning Rs 1,200 per day in Ahmedabad as a skilled labourer; digging a pond or a canal drain hurt our dignity but for survival we continued with the menial job,” Rajput said.

In the first week of September, I got a call from the factory owner and he told me that he was restarting manufacturing and we must return immediately. He also assured us to provide free housing facilities and food.

Within a week, the representative of the factory arrived in the village with a taxi to take us back, he said.

In Gorakhpur, the story of Motilal, a resident of Ahirauli village, is no different.

He worked in a furniture manufacturing unit in Delhi.

After the closure of the factory in March, he returned with the family to his native village.

“Skilled in making household furniture, I worked in Delhi for the past eight years. The lockdown turned me jobless, and along with other workers from the Gorakhpur region, I returned to my village. With little savings, I was somehow managing the family. The supervisor of the factory arrived on Monday and assured us that the factory will not shut down and our wages will also be hiked. The trains are running full so he has booked flight tickets for us to Delhi,” Motilal said.

Vikram Rajput and Motilal are not alone who are getting their work back.

Bundelkhand and Gorakhpur regions, known as land of migrants, are witnessing a similar story with the migrant workers being wooed back to their workplaces in cities. Interestingly, the factory owners, real estate businessmen, construction agencies are sending their representatives to convince the workers and arrange their return by road, rail and air.

“The push and pull factors are driving the migrant workers again from the villages to the cities. The deprivation and fear of Covid pandemic had forced the workers to return to their villages. Resumption of business activities in the Unlock phase has healed the scars along with the realization that there are limited options in villages. Workers are more than willing to return,” said professor Rajesh Kumar Mishra, former head of sociology department in Lucknow

“Recent studies show that the purchasing power in rural areas has declined adding to the plight of workers who returned home. The entrepreneurs settled in cities who are trying to start their business activities are working as the pull factor, luring the migrants to return by sending representatives, offering better wages, shelter and food,” he said.

Labour minister Swami Prasad Maurya said the state government had succeeded in providing employment to several migrants as per their skills.

“They were provided shelter and ration and enrolled under MGNREGA schemes. The skill mapping of the workers was done to provide them with employment in the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) sector. With the start of activities post-Unlock, large number of skilled workers have been provided jobs in various manufacturing units across the state,” he said.