In the last few years, misuse of social media and the spread of fake videos has become a major concern for society. Now it has also impacted the apparel industry directly. In one such incident, recently in Tirupur, the migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and other states working in Tirupur’s garment factories were in panic after a false video became viral. The video clipping taken in the railway station has been twisted as if there is a clash between the North Indian and South Indian workers. In reality, there was no clash between the migrant workers and the local workers and the circulation of WhatsApp news was false and not revealing the true state of affairs. The collective efforts of Tamil Nadu Government, trade bodies, local administration helped to take control of the situation but it has again highlighted the fact that there is a need to focus more on trust-building measures for migratory workers.
The timing of this development was also critical as the migratory workers in Tirupur were leaving for their native place to celebrate Holi festival but it was presented in social media in a wrong way. The issue was highly significant as there are lakhs of migrant workers in Tamil Nadu belonging to Bihar, Odisha, Chattisgarh, Uttarkhand, Assam, West Bengal, etc. Though the majority of migratory workers are employed in Tamil Nadu’s apparel and textile industry, but other industries also have a good number of such workers.
A fact-finding delegation team from Bihar State visited three garment exporting units in Tirupur and had an interaction with migrant workers from Bihar. The delegation was satisfied with the responses from workers.
The good thing that came out of all these developments was the immediate action taken by various State Governments, administration, trade bodies and the situation became normal quickly. Various steps were also taken to give confidence to the migrant workers to work peacefully in Tamil Nadu. The Tamil Nadu police launched a helpline to reach out to the migrant workers who were in distress. The Hindi-speaking staff of garment factories also helped the state police.
M K Stalin, Chief Minister, Tamil Nadu also assured protection to migrant workers amidst rumours of attacks on them. He reassured his Bihar counterpart Nitish Kumar that all migrant workers are safe in the state and even asserted swift action against the rumour-mongers spreading panic.
In Tamil Nadu, the state police booked Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK) Chief Coordinator Seeman on charges of delivering a speech intimidating migrant workers from North India. A case was registered against the NTK leader for making ‘derogatory remarks’ against a community while addressing a public meeting in the western city.
On the other hand, The Economic Offence Unit of the Bihar police lodged an FIR against Manish Kashyap, a YouTuber, in a case related to the sharing of a fake video of alleged attacks on Bihari migrants in Tamil Nadu. As per media reports, this fake video created panic amongst Bihari migrant workers in Tamil Nadu.
In a separate case, a youth, identified as Umesh Mahto, was arrested from Gopalganj district for spreading rumours about the death of a migrant worker in Tamil Nadu. He had uploaded a fake video on social media regarding the same.
A group of officers from Bihar who had gone to Tamil Nadu to check rumours about attacks on migrant workers have said in their report that these are mere rumours. They confirmed this in their report after returning to Bihar from different areas of Tamil Nadu.
Trade associations have also been active in this regard and issued statements on time, met officials and created awareness that there is no need for panic regarding migrant labour.
KM Subramaniam, President, TEA informed that work had not been disrupted due to the recent development and assured workers about their safety.
“A mobile number of TEA was given to public to contact at any time 24 x 7 and they were requested not to believe any fake news/videos/messages. Further, the Association received calls from more than 50 people from various Northern states to know the scenario in Tirupur and they were given assurance that all workers were safe and they are well protected by the respective management of the units,” he told Apparel Resources (AR).
In a press meeting, T.Rajkumar, Chairman, Confederation of Indian Textile Industry (CITI) and Ravi Sam, Chairman, The Southern India Mills’ Association (SIMA) stated that there is no discrimination between the local workers and the migrant workers in terms of wages and both of them are treated equally by the industry. Both were of the view that in fact, the industry is providing hostel accommodation with food based on the needs of the migrant workers. However, in the recent few weeks, a section of the group and political outfits are making a hue and cry over the engagement of migrant workers and demanding that the migrant workers (hailing from North India) should not be permitted to work in Tamil Nadu.
They further stated that such groups are sowing the seeds of hatred in the minds of working people in Tamil Nadu, against the engagement of migrant workers. Such attitudes and demands from these sections would pose a danger to an industrially developed state like Tamil Nadu and affect the performance of the industry, as a whole.
“The development disturbed the prevailing tranquillity. But Tirupur is a place of equality which is well understood by all of the job seekers because this cluster believes in ‘yesterday’s labour is today’s owner’,” Raja M Shanmugham, ex-President, TEA
In this entire scenario, it is important to highlight that ensuring the welfare of migrant labourers in the absence of comprehensive data is a major issue. It is being estimated that at least 40 per cent of workers in Tamil Nadu are from outside the state. While in apparel sector of Tamil Nadu, especially Tirupur which is India’s biggest knitted garment cluster, allied jobworking units have around 50 per cent migrant workers. Looking at the growth of the apparel industry, Tirupur needs more than one million workers by 2030, and in the future, migrant workers might comprise 60 per cent in this cluster.
Currently, the hub has annual apparel business of around Rs. 75,000 crore and employs total six lakh workers.
It is important to note here that the local workforce is reducing in the state’s manufacturing scenario. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) said that the local labour force participation rate in Tamil Nadu has been shrinking as it was 56 per cent in March 2016, and between 2016 and 2022, the participation rate fell by 20 percentage points to around 36 per cent.
Various small but significant steps are being taken with regard to this scenario like KM Subramaniam told that various factories’ have increased their thrust on labour welfare sub- committees and there is more communication now between the workers and factory management. Most of the factories are also giving moral support like providing emergency contact numbers of their HR team heads and nearby police station too.
Similarly, trade bodies and Tamil Nadu police department are organising awareness meetings among the migrant labourers in more than 600 factories.
It is also good to see that on various platforms, the thrust is on calling migrant workers ‘Guest workers’. Such small steps will also help to increase mutual trust among migrant workers and locals.
More focus on adequate welfare facilities for migrant labourers can be instrumental in ensuring more availability of such workers. There are some factories having hostel and food facility for migrant workers but looking at the scale of the industry, these facilities are very less. More housing and facilities for children’s education are needed to woo workers from other parts of the country.