Migrant Workers Flock to India’s Kerala State Searching For Jobs

Filed under: International,Labor,News |

India has it’s own issues with migrant workers as does China, the European Union and the United States.

Economically, the India’s Kerala state presents a paradox. The state, where the Malayali language prdominates, has long been a source of migrant workers for the Arab Gulf states. Now Kerala is itself attracting migrant workers, who number netween 2 million and 3 million, according to India’s Zeenews.com.

Kerala location within India.

Kerala location within India.

Kerala depends on remittances of around two million Malayali-speaking workers in the Gulf who send home about $8.8 billion annually, more than 20% of the state’s GDP.

While more than half the state’s resident’s depend on agriculture for their living, the state has India’s highest human development rating. Its cities are considered some of the best places to live in all of India, yet there are few major local corporations or manufacturing operations.

Located on the west coast of southwest India facing the Arabian Sea, Kerala covers 38,863 km2 (15,005 sq. mi.) bordered by Karnataka on the north, Tamil Nadu to the south. Its population is about 33 million, according to Census India figures, about half of whom depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Kerala’s capital and largest city is Thiruvananthapuram, home to about 3 million people.

From Zeenews.com:

Though their exact numbers is not clear, the Labour department estimates them [migrant workers] to be around 20 to 30 lakh [2 million to 3 million] which includes skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled hands.

Brought to the state by labour contractors, there are also those who come in search of better wages from Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, and are engaged in sectors like construction, hotels, footwear, plywood making, lottery selling and quarry and brick kilns.

Kerala has few major corporations or manufacturers, yet its Human Development Index rating (literacy is 96%) is India’s highest. This “Kerala phenomenon” or “Kerala model of development” of very high human development and little high economic development results from the strong service sector supported by a strong mixed socialist democratic economy.

It also helps that Kerala is a popular tourist destination known for its backwaters, yoga, Ayurvedic treatments and tropical greenery. According to a 2007 survey by The Economic Times, five out of ten best cities to live in India are located in Kerala.

Kerala recently became the only Indian state with banking facilities in every village. A 2005 survey by Transparency International conducted in ranked Kerala as India’s least corrupt state.

Kerala is also becoming hub for IT and business process outsourcing, which has brought with it migrant workers of a different sort.

ZeeNews.com reports:

The flow of professionals to IT campuses like Infopark and Technopark and the increasing demand for North Indian dishes has also caused the large-scale employment of cooks from the upper reaches of the country and the mushrooming of fast food joints.

A security dimension has also been seen as it is often difficult for employers to ascertain the nationality of the workforce, which sometimes include illegal immigrants from Nepal and Bangladesh.

However, Anandi, a social researcher who studies migrant labour in Kerala believes that these workers are exploited by middlemen and job agents.

“Employers claim migrant labourers are provided reasonable pay or decent accommodation. The reality is that most of them, especially construction workers, sleep in shacks at worksites and are not provided enough food, clean drinking water or toilet facilities,” she said.

Technopark, building in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.

Technopark in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.

Under the state’s rules, each worker coming must register in a local labor office. Agents who bring in workers must pay have to pay Rs 1,000 refundable deposit per head. Labour contractors and middlemen often manipulate the numbers to pay less bond amount, making an exact count of number of migrants difficult, according published reports.

Kerala’s government recently announced a plan to bring in a registration system for migrant job seekers.

“This will help us keep a databank of migrant workers coming to Kerala. It will also help state agencies keep a tab on them and ensure they are not exploited by contractors and employers,” Labour Minister Shibu Baby John, told Zeenews.com.

“Under the scheme, we plan to give photo ID cards to such workers. Labour department staff now visit each work site, count the number of migrants and take their photos. We have already registered 20,000 labourers so far,” he said.

The government is planning to set up labor camps in Kerala’s major cities Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode with the co-operation of employers. Trade unions have been demanding fair treatment for migrant workers be treated fairly, but have not yet organized them. Kerala has a strong labor movement, with more than 100 industrial actions being staged last year, the most of any state in India.

Zeenews.com notes the inevitable effect that worker migration has a on local cultures.

The workers’ lifestyle can also be seen in Kerala’s society and lifestyle, with eateries and wayside dhabas providing north Indian food to cater to their demands.

There are also instances of buses, hotels and shops displaying multi-lingual signboards in view of their growing presence in the state, researchers said.

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