The rise of the Local vs Migrant Divide in Labour

The main SIPCOT depot in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu. Credits: Sashwata S.

Even as recession hits the Indian automobile sector and its allied industries, a local versus migrant divide is emerging among the informal employees – both current and former – of these corporate giants.

According to S Venkatesh (21), a former Hyundai employee and a resident of Mambakkam village, this is because the companies see migrants as being more pliable, and unable of “making noise.”

He was fired in August after participating in a protest organised by CITU against working conditions and lack of medical coverage for employees. Venkatesh is a polytechnic diploma holder.

Domestic passenger vehicle sales have been falling since November, last year. Consequently, India’s automakers have been cutting down on jobs and dragging them down in allied sectors as well.

K Narendra (24), a former SIPCOT employee said, “Migrants don’t have unions and usually they are desperate. They aren’t particular about wages and neither do they protest the working conditions.”

On the other hand, a migrant from Bihar, Mohit Sharma (27), a security guard at Sipcot makes around Rs 12,500 every month. He said, “I am on a three year contract and get basic health coverage too.”

Sharma lives in a corner of Mambakkam apparently segregated for migrant labourers. He lives with 20 others like him in a rented house. “The locals don’t like us especially since the mass firings began. They don’t like the fact that we are employed while they aren’t.”

The Indian Express on October 26 says as much as 3.61 crore workers were hired on non-contractual terms and 2.80 crore on contractual terms in 2018. 

Non-contractual employment – the kind that happens with domestic help, for example – not only pays less for the same work but also provides little in the way of job security or work conditions.

Anannyo Bhattacharya, a Human Resource Manager at Hyundai Motors in Sriperumbudur said that India’s inflexible labour laws not only make it difficult for corporates to hire and fire employees depending on the economic situation but also make it costly.

He said, “Hiring migrants is not a conspiracy. We don’t have any preferences but yes, handling these local CITU troublemakers has been especially difficult. Consider the slump our company is in, dismissals are not motivated by bias but by our inability to employ the people among other factors.”

The automobile slowdown series of stories have been reported and written by Group D of ACJ Print Batch of 2020.