Sohan Kumar (name changed), a guest worker from West Bengal, has been working in various hotels and restaurants for nearly a decade in Thiruvananthapuram. The work starts early in the morning and goes on till late at night. Last year, he could survive the pandemic with the help of his friends. However, now, with just a few dine-in customers and more food deliveries, hotels and restaurants are cutting down the number of staff. Sohan is now confused whether to stay back or leave for his hometown before the situation worsens.
With increasing restrictions, curb on travels and night curfews, many guest workers in the state are doubtful of what is next, like Sohan. More than the fear of Covid, it is the economic uncertainty that is worrying them. Seeing the plight of the migrants, the Kerala Inter-state Migrants Alliance for Transformation (KISMAT), a project of Bangalore Rural Educational and Development Society (BREADS), has set up 12 call centres across the state to address the problems faced by the guest workers.
“Currently, the migrant workers are facing various problems such as lack of job opportunities, lack of income for daily sustenance, fear of a complete lockdown and apprehensions about vaccination. So, we thought of opening call centres to listen to their grievances and coming up with a solution with the support of various government departments,” said Fr Tony Varghese SDB, Director of Don Bosco Veedu Society. The call centres will work round the clock with communication in languages such as Hindi, Assamese, Bengali, Tamil, Tulu, Oriya, Telugu and Kannada.
“While some guest workers are worried about the availability of trains, some have raised concerns if vaccination is compulsory. Tirur in Malappuram district had close to 1,500 migrant workers before the pandemic. However, only less than 200 migrant workers are remaining since most of them have returned to their native places,” shares Sruthi Menon, who manages migrant call centres in Thrissur. She can speak Bengali, Assamese and Nepali.
Mr. Shanoy P M, district co-ordinator of Kozhikode Migrants’ help desk, says, “Due to lack of job opportunities in the unorganised sector owing to the restrictions, many are waiting to return to their homes. Queries are being raised even by migrant workers who are in their native places and are waiting to return to Kerala once things are back to normal.”
Sandhya Ramakrishnan, state coordinator of KISMAT says, “Bilingual and trilingual volunteers have been assigned at the centres. Awareness about the precautions to fight the pandemic is being conveyed through WhatsApp and other social media platforms. We aim to reach the maximum number of guest workers in the state.”
Emergency helpline numbers for guest workers
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