Coronavirus impact: Lack of workers forces owners to keep shops shut

Updated: May 22, 2020, 07:25 IST | Faizan Khan, Diwakar Sharma | Mumbai

Migrant workers have gone home, so some stores, small industries are unable to open due to lack of staff; owners seek help from the government

Beheulal Prajapati (in pink shirt), a ready-made garment shop owner in Panvel, said the government needs to pay attention to shopkeepers otherwise they will head towards a serious crisis. Pic/Faizan Khan
Beheulal Prajapati (in pink shirt), a ready-made garment shop owner in Panvel, said the government needs to pay attention to shopkeepers otherwise they will head towards a serious crisis. Pic/Faizan Khan

As lakhs of migrants have gone back to their hometowns, shopkeepers have started to feel the manpower crunch. Many shops and small industries in the orange and green zones which were allowed to open with certain restrictions, have been unable to do so due to the unavailability of workers. Even some small grocery markets have been forced to be shut due to this.

Owners of shops and industries etc say that this is causing them to lose lakhs of rupees.

Ashok Patel, the owner of King Plaza, a super market in Cuffe Parade, had to shut it down two days ago as at least 35 workers here have gone back to their home towns. Patel said, "Their families are scared and were calling them back. I am losing lakhs of rupees. I still have to pay society maintenance and light bills. I can't run the market with one or two people because they won't be able to handle it. The government didn't plan anything properly before announcing the lockdown."

India's gems and jewellery hub, Zaveri Bazaar, is allegedly losing `200 crore every day. The owners of shops here say all their labourers have gone to be with their families due to the COVID-19 scare. "The gold market is totally shut since the lockdown was announced, and we are losing `200 crore per day. Even if we are allowed to run with certain restrictions, we don't have workers. The shops are to open today for cleaning and sanitisation, but we don't have anyone for that also," said Kumar Jain, Shri Mumbai Jeweller Association president.

'Govt must pay attention'

In Panvel, as the per the guidelines by Panvel Municipal Corporation, various non-essentials' shops are allowed to be open on specific days. On Thursday, the readymade garment shops were open, and customers were pouring in mainly for Eid shopping, but shopkeepers did not have enough staff to handle the rush. "There were 20 workers at my shop but now there are only two as all have gone to their native places in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Now we are taking few customers and shutting down in the evening as we have to maintain social distancing norms. The government needs to pay immediate attention to us otherwise we will head towards a serious crisis," said Beheulal Prajapati, a ready-made garments shop owner in Panvel.

Shops closed in Dharavi during the lockdown. PIC/Shadab Khan
Shops closed in Dharavi during the lockdown. Pic/Shadab Khan

Most of the shop owners feel the government should do something for them. Mukesh Navadhare, owner of a readymade garments showroom, told mid-day, "If customers start coming in large numbers, in the month of May we might earn 35 per cent of what we earn in the entire financial year. Now they are not coming as they are facing salary cuts. The workers who have gone back are not willing to come back soon. If the government doesn't do something, small-time businesses will shut due to unavailability of workers."

Nikhil Nambiar, a Human Resource Consultant said, "As declared by CM, the state is expected to resume work from June 1 onwards. Large scale companies completely dependent on workers for production will face a major issue. Roughly 100 million migrant workers are directly responsible for 10% of the GDP. Why are they still being under paid or not visible to the industry? At least 80% of the factories are dependent on these migrants' labour."

Kunal Nandu, director, Vinay Electrical Solutions Pvt Ltd said, having a smooth production line of work and a profitable income will definitely take minimum of 6-7 months. While Mithun Sheth, CEO and Co-Founder, AMA Design Solutions Pvt Ltd said later both skilled and unskilled labour could have a surge in their wages as they will be in high demand.

'Workers might be back'

Rohit Wadmare, co-founder, Ro Enterprises said 85% of his employees are from other states. All of them requested they be allowed to go to their home towns. He said, "The industry will resume and they might come back if the scenario is safe for them. Every business will face problems to get back on track."

Subarna Devendra, fashion designer and founder, SD Couture said sales in the fashion industry too are on hold. "Most of my workers said they will be back post Diwali as there is no season of fashion happening. We are dependent on the tailors and karigars for the garment and since they are unavailable, everything is on hold," he said.

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