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India launches jobs plan for migrants in ‘testing times’

MUMBAI: Migrant workers and families wait outside Dharavi slums for transportation to a railway terminus to catch a train back home after the government eased a nationwide lockdown imposed against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Mumbai.—AFP

NEW DELHI: India on Wednesday unveiled a jobs plan for “testing times” in a bid to get migrants back at work after the world’s biggest coronavirus lockdown stripped millions of their livelihood.

With a mammoth repatriation effort underway, tens of thousands of migrant workers are returning to India and the government scheme aims to hook up the incomers with vacancies and kickstart the slowing economy.

“These are testing times,” Mahendra Nath Pandey, Minister of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, said in a statement. India put commercial jets, military aircraft and naval warships into action last month to bring back nearly a million Indians from neighboring countries, the Middle East, Singapore, Britain and the United States. [

More than 57,000 people have so far come back, according to the civil aviation ministry, in a repatriation mission spanning workers, students and vulnerable citizens stranded overseas by travel bans and closed borders. India recorded more than 211,700 confirmed infections and nearly 5,900 deaths on Wednesday, according to a tally by the Johns Hopkins University.

The government enforced one of the world’s strictest lockdowns on March 25, shutting most commercial and industrial activity and leaving millions who rely on daily wages without a job. India has since eased its lockdown rules, allowing restaurants, malls and religious places to reopen from June 8. Now that Indians are returning home, the government said it would create a database collating their skills and experience to help fill jobs in Indian and foreign companies “and bridge the demand-supply gap”.

Migrants fill out a form online, listing their sector of work, job title, employment and years of experience. About 7,000 people had registered between May 30 – when the program went live – and Wednesday afternoon, when the program was official unveiled. Most said they worked in the sectors of oil and gas, construction, tourism and hospitality in the Middle East. Critics said the scheme failed to address low and semi-skilled workers, who make up more than 90 percent of Indian laborers in the Gulf and Southeast Asia, according to the International Labor Organization.

Others said the government was not doing enough to provide jobs to millions of internal migrants who have been pushed into hunger and poverty after losing their livelihoods. The country has witnessed scenes of mass internal migration, with countless workers forced to walk thousands of miles back home in scorching heat after losing their work, many dying of exhaustion or in accidents along the way.

India has announced a slew of measures to regularize the employment of migrant workers – from offering universal minimum daily wages to the launch of a registration system that opens the door to aid for workers who have lost their job.

But Nilanjan Ghosh, a director at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation think tank, said economic slowdown risked unleashing a “survival of the fittest” syndrome. “If governmental schemes do not work and the service sector shrinks, there will be large-scale unemployment that can be associated with increase in crime rates, social unrest and conflicts,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. — Reuters

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