A youthful, migrant workforce takes root in an ageing Kerala

FP

Migration to Kerala, on the other hand, would continue for at least the next 10 to 15 years, depending on employment openings and wages in Bihar, West Bengal and other states. Rajan said the workers should be used professionally in the social and economic sectors. "Kerala has to ensure better wages, living standards," he said. "North Indian states too can depute labour officers to Kerala to address the issues of workers from their states."

Wages and attitudes

They have entered every economic activity and are in every part of Kerala, urban or rural, yet they face systemic social exclusion from the government, their employers and the media, the study notes. Often suspected as infiltrators from Bangladesh or Maoists, they are described as anya samsthana (alien state) workers by officials and the media.

"This exclusion works to the advantage of the host society in various ways: to keep the wage levels low, rent levels high, services cheap, and to maintain a labour force that is at their beck and call, one that can be absorbed and driven out at will," the study says.

Narayana said there was no cause for mistrust as 90 per cent of the workers have valid ID cards or authorisations issued by local village chiefs. Attitudes could change if they start settling in Kerala with their families, he said.

Over 85 per cent of the migrants work six to seven days a week. In contrast, many Kerala labourers work three or four days a week, thanks to the higher wages they get, a number of welfare schemes, and women's participation in MGNREG jobs. These contrasting work cultures have forced farmers and contractors to hire more and more north Indian workers, who toil to send money home.

Over 90 per cent of the migrant workers earn less than Rs 500 a day.

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