Does Chennai know its Migrant Workers?

Experience of Migrants in Chennai - Statistics, Experiences, Social Conditions etc...

Look at any large construction project in Chennai, be it the Metro Rail or the Airport or the MRTS extension the first thing that rings a bell is the multitude of people working onsite to make these engineering maevels for the City. Yet does Chennai really know or care about it migrants. Do these migrants have insurance? What health benefits do they get? How long do workers work? We try to find answer to these questions in our article. 

When we started writing this article we realized that the statistics regarding migrants in Chennai is between too less and none. There lies the problem to start with. There is limited data available about the migration pattern of migrants to Chennai beyond a few academic studies. The best fieldwork titled “The Life and Times of Migrant Workers in Chennai” is done by Mr Jeyaranjan of Institute of Development Alternatives. (Link to Report). It is common knowledge that people migrate of Chennai in search of better job and educational options. 


Statistics of Migrant Workers in Chennai

Most workers get paid anywhere between 250 – 700 per day of work depending on the industry and the season. They work about 12 hours a day. 

According to the report the demographics of the migrant workers is as below:

Migrants by state of origin

Arunachal Pradesh0.6

According to this about 22% of the workers are from Assam followed by Orissa, West Bengal and Bihar. Between them they constitute more than 50 percent of the migrant workforce. 

Migrants by sector and average age

S. NoSectorAverage age (Years)

According to the study, the average age of the migrant construction worker is about 35 and 31 in the case of the services industry and 23 in the case of manufacturing industry. This makes the average age of migrants about 29 across all the industries surveyed. 

Education Level of Migrants by Industry Type

Sl. No.SectorNot EducatedPrimaryHigh SchoolHSCGraduatePGTotal
3North East24.222.3239.320.240100

It is obvious from the above table that majority of the migrant workers have no formal education and very few have graduation or post graduation. 

Social Experience of Migrants & Migrant Communities

According to Mr Kingo (Name Changed), migrants are looked at with high skepticism by rest of the society. This becomes a great challenge when looking for a house in a predominantly non migrant areas. “We have to keep shifting house” says Ms Nicean (Name Changed). 

There are traditional stereotypes that people are unable to look beyond. But things are also changing for the good in the recent decade… says Ms Alice from Mizoram who has made Chennai her home for more than 18 years now. She came to Chennai to for her under graduate studies and decided to find and settle in a job in Chennai itself. She is now a software engineer with a leading IT firm in Chennai. Her position has lead to many more people from her home town to follow her in search of green pastures. 

Government Support for Migrants in Chennai

Under fire for various Non Governmental Organizations for the abysmal conditions of migrant workers, the Government of Tamilnadu had earlier planned to set up a resource center for the assistance of migrant workers. As part of the initial work in collaboration with Tamil Nadu Institute of Labour Studies and International Labour Institute where to carry out a study on migrant women in 4 districts of the state. 

According to law in case of any mishap the “The State government provides ₹5 lakh to the family of the deceased from the Tamil Nadu Construction Workers Welfare Board. However this is limited to loss of life and not to workers who have injuries. The Labour Department conducts periodic awareness programs to get migrant workers to get enrolled in the welfare board, but the enrollment has received lukewarm response. 

Under the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board, a cess at the rate of 1% of the construction cost incurred is collected across all the Tamilnadu Government projects. This money is used for the providing support to workers. 3 major boards are created under the Labour Commissioner: TN Labour Welfare Board, TN Construction
Workers Welfare and Board TN Manual Workers Welfare Board.

Additionally the Parliament of India enacted The Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979. The aim of the act is to regulate the condition of service of inter-state labourers in Indian labour law. It is to protect workers whose services are requisitioned outside their native states in India. Whenever an employer faces shortage of skills among the locally available workers, the act creates provision to employ better skilled workers available outside the state.

This has largely been only on papers until now. However, much work has been done in the recent years due to increased awareness and due to the support of the first generation migrants to second generation migrants. 

One of the most immediate measures is to conduct periodic census of the migrant workers and understand their demographics so that the necessary and suitable schemes and solutions can be offered to them. 

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