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Migrant Workers’ Scare in TN- Background, Recent Developments & Concerns

From Current Affairs Notes for UPSC » Editorials & In-depths » This topic

Following fake videos, allegedly showing anti-migrant attacks in Tamil Nadu, going viral on social media, the state government had to step up to issue reassurances, communicate with their counterpart in the workers’ home states and enter into overall damage control mode. The incident throws light on the state’s relation with migrant workers.

This topic of “Migrant Workers’ Scare in TN- Background, Recent Developments & Concerns” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.

Background:

  • Tamil Nadu hosts over 1 million migrant workers from states like Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal.
  • Most of them are concentrated in the capital Chennai (destination for 4% of inter-state migration in India) and the industrial hubs of Tiruvallur and Chengalpattu. Significant numbers are also in Tiruppur, Coimbatore and Erode.
  • The sectors that are most reliant of these workers are:
    • Hotel industry
    • Textile sector
    • Infrastructure sector, etc.
  • Earlier, the state was a source of migrant workers to the adjoining states of Karnataka, Kerala and AP.
  • In the 1990s, with the boost in industrialization and urbanization, the situation in the state transformed from that of labour surplus to labour shortage, especially in the manufacturing and service industries.
  • This shortage attracted workers from the north and the east. Over the years, the migrant workers emerged as the most important labour supply source in the state.
  • Though many of the jobs held by these workers have little security or a decent pay, they are relatively more attractive to the employment options available back in their home states.

Recent Developments:

  • The issue started with videos, allegedly showing migrant workers being attacked in Tamil Nadu, making the rounds on social media platforms. The rumours and accusations eventually made its way into local and national headlines.
  • Adding to this, opportunistic political rhetoric and images showing migrant workers queuing up to leave the state added fuel to the fire. As the incident coincided with the Holi holidays, it was difficult to determine whether the workers were leaving out of panic.
  • The issue blew up to such a proportion that even the Bihar CM raised concerns about workers’ safety in TN. The Bihar government sent a team of officials to assess the situation on ground.
  • The state government strongly ruled out anti-migrant hysteria and reiterated these workers’ importance to the state’s infrastructure and economy. The government officials, the police and the industry bodies sent out messages reassuring the workers and appealing for calm.
  • The police has registered cases against individuals, including journalists and politicians, on charges of spreading fake news.

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Why is this concerning?

  • Over the years, the state’s dependence on migrant workers has been increasing. Employers are opting to hire these workers as they work for much lower pay compared to the local workers. This has meant that migrant workers remain underpaid.
  • These workers are unlikely to organize themselves to present collective demands with regards to wage hikes, decent working conditions or social security.
  • The employers’ preference for migrant workers has led to some discontent among the local workforce. However, this discontent is unlikely to deteriorate into organized hatred against workers from outside.
  • Also, there are concerns with regards to the xenophobic rhetoric coming from ethno-nationalist political parties in the state. Even some sections of the media have been stereotyping and demeaning workers from the northern states.

What is the way ahead?

  • Recent investigations into the video showed that they were of old incidents that took place in other states like Rajasthan, Karnataka and Telangana. They have also pointed out that there isn’t enough evidence indicating such targeted attacks against migrant workers in TN.
  • It is also unlikely that the industry players, who are greatly dependent on the migrant workforce from the northern states, would sit back as such incidents affect their bottom lines.
  • Though the allegations of anti-migrant attacks in TN have been disproved by the authorities, there is a concern that the incident may have scared off some of the workers.
  • The state government has already taken measures to assure these workers of their safety. However, more needs to be done.
    • Ensuring minimum wages are paid to these workers
    • Ensuring that they receive social security benefits, etc.

Conclusion:

Tamil Nadu is a key job provider for migrant workers and the state’s economy, in turn, depends greatly on these workers. The recent incident is a wake-up call to ensure that these workers are respected and valued.

Practice Question for Mains:

Comment on Tamil Nadu’s relationship with migrant workers, in light of the recent anti-migrant scare. (250 words)

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