Demand for contract workers may increase as companies prepare to ramp up production

MUMBAI: The demand for contract workers may see an upsurge in the coming months as companies prepare to ramp up production to make up for lost time. Conglomerates such as Tata Steel, KEC International, Larsen & Toubro, Mahindra & Mahindra and Maruti Suzuki, among others, have managed to hold back several batches of factory personnel to rev up production lines once the lockdown eases. However, there are some companies that may need to hire in order to fill in for the migrant workers who have moved back.

KEC International, a leading power transmission engineering, procurement and construction company, is one among those planning to hire more contract workers as the lockdown is relaxed. “We would need more people to make up for the project time lost,” said Vimal Kejriwal, managing director and CEO of KEC International.

“There would be requirement of hiring more workers in order to catch up,” said Kejriwal. The company, part of the RPG group, has currently about 20,000 people at approximately 150 project sites across the country including some remote parts of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.

Companies like KEC and Maruti Suzuki have seen a mass migration of 15-20% of its workers soon after the lockdown was declared, however, those left at the project sites are getting paid and being taken care of.

Rajeshwar Tripathi, chief human resource officer, Mahindra & Mahindra said: “We need to get back our contract workers, some of whom have gone back, once work resumes full swing.”

However, experts said getting migrant workers who have already left for their homes might be a challenge in the immediate future because of the hardships they have already faced.

Rituparna Chakraborty, co-founder of Teamlease Services, said manufacturing companies may face 20-30% gap or shortage of contract/migrant workers because many people who have already left for far off places may not come in. “Companies will need to replenish or backfill the headcount, if not hire additional,” she added. “This could also lead to the possibility of a wage hike,” she said.

Engineering and construction major Larsen & Toubro and steel major Tata Steel have created a support system to hold back their contract workers.

L&T, which has 160,000 contract workers across India, has kept aside a monthly outlay of Rs 500 crore to support workers by paying their wages, providing them food, medical and other basic requirements at labour camps ensuring that they do not move out.

Tata Steel, which is currently keeping its blast furnaces, coke plants and steel making processes partially running, is working with just about a third of its total workforce of factory personnel in Jamshedpur, Kalinganagar and other places.

“Work will be ramped up once these people come back after the lockdown is eased,” said Suresh Tripathi, vice president – human resources at Tata Steel. To ensure that the same set of people come back to work once lockdown ends, the company has made sure that there is no disruption in payment for contract workers and vendors.

As most contract workers come from neighbouring villages, the steel major has put in place a massive effort to set up an entire ecosystem so that people do not feel the need to go out of the villages for anything.

Some of these measures include connecting all the villages through internet, having dedicated people to maintain hygiene in the villages, appointing trained paramedics keeping in touch with people and helping them with doctor consultation if required, ensuring the supply of fresh vegetables, making masks with help of local Self Help Groups and providing packed food.

Diversified conglomerate ITC, which is currently manufacturing essential items like food and hygiene products, has ramped up production across 100 factories “We have been undertaking scenario planning…and are gearing up to further ramp up production, reallocate resources and recalibrate distribution based on the circumstances that will emerge once the lockdown period is over,” said a company spokesperson.

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