Bhubaneswar: The impact of coronavirus threat was felt in a big way in every corner of the city. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik asked people to practise social distancing and refrain from spreading misinformation about COVID-19, saying extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary responses.
Many organisations and offices advised people and workers to work from home to avoid possible contact with affected people. Some companies encouraged employees to work from home, if possible.
But for regular labourers and migrant workers, life has become miserable as they have no option but to sit quietly without wages. Many were seen travelling to other states in search of work as they don’t get enough opportunities here. Kalia Jena of Kendrapara who travelled to Vishakapatnam for work said, “I have to work daily to feed my family. There is no one to give money or compensation to them.”
Alok Lal of Bihar, who stays at a roadside shanty at Rasulgarh, said people are not giving jobs to him fearing they will catch corona virus due to my poor condition.
Saroj Kumar Barik of Aide et Action, working for workers’ rehabilitation, said at present situation they are more vulnerable to the virus than anyone else. Instead of closing work, it is better to make people aware of the disease and facility owners need to take care of provisions of sanitation, and the need to change work pattern
Many workers tend to fear that calling in sick or taking days off will result in punitive action and diminishing career prospects. Companies historically have not developed cultures or messaging to counter this notion.
Subash Singh, former chairperson of Odisha Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board, said, “We advise them to take precautions and work in small groups to avoid risks. We will hold a meeting with labour department to release an advisory for workers.”
Odisha happens to be one of those states to have two boards meant for unorganized and migrant workers and many safety mechanisms are in place already. Odisha is the first state to have registered brick kiln migrant workers under the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board. 29 lakhs of workers of different sectors have been registered under this board.
The migrant workers must get decent wages, safety and working condition in this situation. A proper record of labourers, especially migrating workers should be recorded by the contractor and maintained. Therefore, a robust monitoring system for this tracking should be put in place. Migration can only be checked through proper and sustainable job creation at source, said Asha , a social activist .
Arindam Ganguly, OP