It's not just traffic jams in Mumbai thanks to campaigning, the upcoming general elections has its repercussions on the Surat-based synthetic textile industry which is reeling under labour shortage. With a desire to vote in the general elections, textile workers in Surat, most of which hail from states like Orissa, Bihar, UP and Maharasthra, among others, are on an exodus to their homes.
Workers who usually go on leave for Holi tend to return by last week of March or first week of April. However, according to textile industry players in Surat, many of the workers are not likely to return before May leading to acute labour shortage. Surat textile industry employs around one million workers.
"Production is already down by 30-40 per cent. More than 200,000 workers have gone on leave for Holi. But this year is different. With general elections coming up, workers have hinted they won't return before May since they want to stay back for voting," said Rakesh Choudhary, executive director of South Gujarat Textile Exporters Association.
Apart from voting in elections, the workforce is also likely to extend their leaves for the wedding season which falls in the month of April in their respective home states.
The total workforce employed by fabric manufacturing, weaving and processing units in the textile industry in Surat stands at around one million. However, by the time of elections, industry players fear almost 50 per cent workers to be on leave.
According to Devkishan Manghani, general secretary of Federation of Surat Textile Traders Association (FOSTTA), already 20-30 per cent of labourers have left while more are expected to leave in the coming days. The labour shortage also comes at a time when the industry, which markets fabric as well as ready made garments including sarees and dress materials, is in the middle of heavy orders for the upcoming summer season.
For now, the units have found certain ways to cope up with the shortage.
"While small units have curtailed their production by almost 50 per cent, big units are running overtime to make up on the shortage by paying extra to the remnant workers," said Choudhary.
If Holi, wedding season and voting is not enough, Manghani explained that the MNREGA scheme also plays a role in the labour shortage with workers staying back at times to earn through the scheme as well.
The industry roughly produces 15-20 million metres of fabric per day resulting in an estimated turnover of around Rs 150 crore per day.