Industries across Tamil Nadu, which rely heavily on migrant workers, have hit the panic button as a section of their workers stayed away from work after seeing fake videos and reports on migrant workers being attacked in the State.
Heads of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), hotels and restaurants and construction firms met up with their migrant workers and told them that they would be taken care of. Over 70% of those who work in these sectors are migrants, industry leaders said.
M. Ravi, president, Chennai Hotels Association, said, “Some of my workers have also left for their home towns after getting calls from their families. We are in touch with them. The migrant workers have played a crucial role in the restaurant and hospitality sector in the State. They learn our language and recipes quickly,” he noted. K.T. Srinivasa Raja, managing director, Adyar Ananda Bhavan, said many of his workers had also gone back. Both were confident that their workers would return after celebrating Holi.
MSMEs also felt the pinch. R. Selvam, secretary of the Thirumudivakkam Industrial Estate Manufacturers’ Association, said around 300 migrant workers did not turn up for work on Saturday and stayed back in their hostel rooms.
“Around 25% of the migrant workforce stayed away from work at our estate and we hear that some have left for their States,” said K. Baskaran, secretary of the Kakkalur Industrial Estate Manufacturers Association (KIEMA).
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Some of the bigger industries said a handful of people did not report for duty; but they returned to work after a brief talk. Sources in the real estate and construction industry said they were in touch with the government to ensure that there was no problem for the labourers at their sites. Migrant workers also play a major role in the Metro Rail projects in the State. One of the workers said, “I have been in Tamil Nadu for seven years and there have been no problems here. My family was worried two days ago. I made a video call and told them that we were safe.”
Two migrant workers, waiting for their trains at Central Railway Station in Chennai, said they were going home for Holi and would return soon. As per the instructions of Chennai City Police Commissioner Shankar Jiwal, police personnel visited locations with migrant workers and dispelled rumours about any attacks on them.
Several migrant workers employed at industries in Coimbatore and Tiruppur districts boarded trains on Saturday. But the reason was to be at home for Holi, said most of them. Industries and officials held meetings with workers in both districts and urged them not to believe in social media messages.
The Bihar Assembly Committee, which is in Chennai, is expected to visit Coimbatore next week. Committees will be formed to interact with the workers and their families in Hindi and allay their fears, Coimbatore Collector Kranthi Kumar Pati said.
In Tiruppur, the industry owners are talking to their workers and unions and urging them to stay back. Some have delayed payment of the weekly wages so that the workers do not leave immediately.