The lockdown-triggered joblessness has forced a reverse migration of thousands of guest workers from Tamil Nadu resulting in the workforce across various sectors in the state dwindling, with the construction industry in particular bearing the brunt of the modern day exodus.
The sector, which employs a large number of migrants, has made a preliminary assessment of the ground realities with the workers returning home and appears to find a drastic decline in its workforce by about 70 per cent.
Nearly 240 Shramik special trains, 79 of them from here, have ferried stranded migrant workers to 17 different states, since last month, Southern Railway and Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) officials said.
The resumption of activity at the projects that came to a grinding halt when the lockdown was enforced from March 24 will take some time, since the construction sector is said to be employing the bulk of migrant workers in the state.
"The construction industry is facing a slowdown. There is about 30 to 35 per cent workforce in the state now besides some migrant workers who have not gone back home," S Sridharan, Chairman, Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India (CREDAI)- Tamil Nadu, said.
A clear picture on the shortage of workers would emerge only after the lockdown is lifted, he told P T I.
"We can assess the situation and even explore the possibilities of employing local workers only after normalcy regains. Also, trains have to be operated to facilitate the return of workers," he said.
Sridharan said it was difficult to quantify the number of projects that were left midway when the lockdown was announced. Insiders believe the construction activities could resume only after normalcy is restored and the workers return by trains, even as those within the state too have left for
their native districts.
In about a month's time, the Greater Chennai Corporation has sent over one lakh guest workers home by 79 Shramik trains to 17 different states.
At present, there are about 3,000 migrant workers in Corporation relief centers, waiting to go home.
"Most of the construction workers and even the workers in the plantations in the districts have not been paid their full wages. They were left on the streets by their employers. Many had to plead for food during the lockdown, to survive," a CITU leader said, painting a grim picture on the workers'
plight during the COVID-19 induced lockdown.
Providing wages to them is a matter of right and the workers who have been given a raw deal are unlikely to return, he said, adding, CITU state unit president A Soundararajan even led the members in staging an agitation demanding wages for workers earlier.
According to the Tamil Nadu Chamber of Commerce, migrant workers are brought to the state by employers through contractors and middlemen.
The pangs of poverty are far too severe as the pandemic has destroyed the workers' livelihood.
So, in the event of the workers deciding to return to Tamil Nadu, the government could arrange special trains to facilitate their return, the chamber said.
When the GCC intensified the operation to send the migrant workers home, word spread fast and a large number of migrant workers in and around the city, and those from the neighbouring districts and states walked all the way to the metro in the hope to return home.
The Corporation has spent close to Rs 10 crore on transporting them and in the process provided them with water and food.