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MUMBAI : Migrant workers who left for their hometowns following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic may refuse to return to metros amid the second wave of infections, staffing companies warned. And many of those who had returned to industrial centres are heading back to their villages once again, worrying labour-intensive industries.

According to industry observers, a surge in covid cases may lead to severe cost pressures for companies looking to retain or recruit workers.

Naveen Pandey, the proprietor of Maharashtra Labour Services, a manpower provider to companies, said contractors like him are finding it hard to fulfil commitments made to clients.

“With many workers finding job opportunities locally and at a decent per-hour-pay, they have stayed on in their hometowns since they left Mumbai last March," Pandey said.

Pandey has a group of skilled and unskilled labourers that he supplies to information technology companies in Santacruz Electronics Export Processing Zone, Mumbai. While skilled workers have stayed on, the unskilled ones have gone back.

“Right now, we are only looking at servicing our existing clients. Many new clients are coming to us. But due to a scarcity of labour, we are forced to decline their requests," added Pandey, who recruits workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.

Last March, an estimated 30 million migrant workers left India’s cities and industrial centres for their homes during the nationwide lockdown. Many of them are yet to return.

Companies in the meantime have found ways to deal with the shortage, as well as covid-19, and maintained that they are better prepared than before.

“We have restricted the number of people coming into our factories as per government guidelines, and currently, we are operating with 50% manpower wherein people are coming in on a rotation basis. Given our learnings of last year, we are much better prepared this year in case of any eventualities," said Mayank Shah, senior category head, Parle Products Ltd. At least 30% of Parle’s 100,000-strong workforce across the country were migrants.

“We do not foresee any problem on the labour or materials supply fronts. If anyone is suspected to be unwell, he quarantines himself. If he isn’t virus-positive, he joins us back, else he is admitted to a hospital. We have understood that we have to co-exist with the virus," said Jaxay Shah, managing director of Savvy Group and chairman of the Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Associations of India.

However, it is not only the demand for workers—skilled and un-skilled—that has surged over the past year. Their wages have also doubled.

“Demand has gone up for workers, and so have their day rates, which have nearly doubled, and in some cases more than doubled. Delhi, in fact, has seen a surge in demand for workers as it has fewer covid-19 cases," said Chirag Mittal, co-founder and chief executive of Gigforce Pvt. Ltd, an on-demand staffing platform.

Mittal said that workers who were making an average of 300 per day have seen their income go up to 600-700 per day and, in a few cases, 1,000 per day.

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