Over 30 per cent labourers lost jobs during last 15 months of pandemic in Gujarat: Trade unionist Ashim Roy

Ashim Roy, president of Chemical Mazdoor Panchayat, alleged that over 2,800 factories in and around Vadodara are not paying overtime wages to workers in violation of SC directives

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)

Nachiketa Desai

Even though small and medium size business and industrial establishments have resumed operations following removal of main COVID-related restrictions, they have retrenched 30 to 40 per cent of their staff and effected a 60-70 per cent salary cut of those retained besides employing contract labourers who are asked to put in 12 hours of work instead of the statutory 8 hours a day.

According to senior trade union leader Ashim Roy, president of Chemical Mazdoor Panchayat, over 30 per cent of workers have lost their jobs in small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Gujarat in the last 15 months of the coronavirus pandemic.

Most migrant workers from outside the state engaged in SMEs and the unorganized sector were compelled to return to their native places in far off states like Odisha, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh after the nation-wide lockdown was declared last year.

However, 10-15 per cent of the migrant persons have not returned to Gujarat even after the industrial units in which they were employed before the lockdown resumed operations this year.

Following relaxation in labour laws introduced by the Central and state governments, the owners of SMEs started employing casual labourers on contract who put in 12 hours of work. “However, despite the Supreme Court’s directive, these workers are not being paid overtime wages by their employers for putting in extra hours of work,” said Roy.

The senior trade union leader said the SMEs in Gujarat had retrenched over 30 per cent of the workers after the lockdown. A majority of them were migrants from other states who had gone back to their native places.

Even after the lockdown was lifted and the SMEs resumed operations, over 15 to 20 per cent of migrant workers, did not return to Gujarat as those who had returned to work informed them about the reduced wages and increased working hours at their work place.

During the second wave of the pandemic, after the state government imposed night curfew in as many as 30 cities of Gujarat and levied heavy fines on those who did not wear masks, thousands of migrant workers left for their native states.

The lockdown and spike in coronavirus positive cases and deaths during the second wave of the pandemic triggered in mid-April also affected the life of white collar workers who faced a minimum of 25 to 30 per cent salary cut.

This seriously impacted the business of fast moving consumer goods as people tried to spend less. According to trade association sources, the FMCG sector saw a dip of at least 25 per cent in its turnover.

Those employed by the automobile and auto parts industry too faced large scale retrenchment during the last 15 months. The production unit of General Motors at Halol near Vadodara was closed and shifted to Pune, which too was closed three months ago, rendering 400 workers jobless.

According to Ashim Roy, manufacturing units have retrenched more than half their workers employed on daily wages basis and increased the working hours of the remaining labourers from 8 hours to 12 hours. He alleged that over 2,800 factories in and around Vadodara are not paying overtime wages to their workers in violation of Supreme Court directives.

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