Dealing With Runaway Labour Import

For the first time, perhaps, domestic labourers within Kashmir some time back expressed resentment over the massive influx of workers from outside the state.

Voicing grave concern over the situation, the All Kashmir Joint Labourers and Workers Union had warned of an agitation in case the state government failed to take immediate measures to curb the increasing arrival of labourers and workers from outside. “More than three lakh labourers from outside work in the state, encroaching upon the livelihood of local labourers” Union had said. There can be no denying that a large number of the local workers were unemployed, many of them gripped by frustration for want of a job. A large number of them are believed to have taken to drugs and other undesirable acts while the successive state governments remain callously indifferent towards their plight. One is compelled to agree with the union that an unchecked influx of outside workers has effectively displaced the local work force, reducing them into paupers. However, his assertion that it (the situation) cannot be allowed to get worse any more, may not have many buyers. The local work force cannot deny that the heavy influx of labourers and workers from various Indian states, like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh, can be traced to the remorseless operation of market forces which weigh more than anything else with the local employers. Regional or ethnic hues cannot determine an employer’s choice for engaging anyone for his job, primarily because he is guided by several factors like the output he would expect in return for the wages he pays the worker. Admittedly, the return from the local workers has been far less than that from the outsiders. Shah may be right in his contention that the “adverse flow of labour” was hitting the local workforce below the belt and that it also had “serious repercussions” on the state economy. But, how would he convince the local employers, engaged particularly in building activity or in development works of various government departments, against having their own preference for labour and other workers.

Arguably, it should be preferable to engage local labour, primarily because of the definite advantage they enjoy over the non-locals on more than one counts. Even as the labourers from outside have, over the recent times, inundated the market, we find hundreds of local youth, mostly from outlying villages, desperately looking for customers and struggling to get a day’s work in various city areas. In certain cases, even educated youth have offered themselves for odd jobs, that too, at a discount, after they find the opportunities in service sectors fully saturated. The influx of workers, skilled and unskilled, could elbow out local youth from the market, and into the morass of frustration. In a situation like this, influx of work force from outside could precipitate a highly explosive situation in case a regulatory mechanism to screen the incoming workers is not put in place with a sense of urgency. At the same time, there is no denying that the local youth would need to undertake some sort of soul searching, that too, urgently, to establish their credentials in preference for outside workers. Undeniably, they are seen as less hard working and dedicated than outsiders. It’s time they appreciated the need for an attitudinal change so that the local employers prefer them over the “aliens” without having to ignore the established factors that guide markets not only in Kashmir but every where else. Indeed, it is not the economic aspect alone that would call for a fresh look at the phenomenon of labour influx, more so taking in view all the related factors. Its fall out on the valley’s social and moral life has been nastier as was in evidence during recent months. The AKJLWU chairman cannot be faulted for drawing the attention of the state people towards the more dangerous influx of “disease and drugs” along with the labourers and workers, many of them women. Going by the reports, many such workers have been accused of indulging in criminal activities. The recent arrest of a gang of burglars could be a case in point which calls for an immediate cognizance by the state authority before the situation gets out of hand. We certainly would not advocate any parochial approach to the problem. While allowing the market forces to operate and guide the preference for labour and workers, there is need to harmonize the arrival from outside with the genuine interests of the locally available work force. More importantly, there has to be an end to the influx of criminal elements into the valley disguised as workers which the state government should ensure with a sense of urgency.

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