Indian companies struggle to lure migrant workers back

In this picture taken on July 21, 2020, workers walk near the construction site of a coastal road project in Mumbai, India. (AFP)
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Updated 27 July 2020

Indian companies struggle to lure migrant workers back

  • Migrant laborers form the backbone of Asia’s third-biggest economy toiling in every sector from making consumer goods

MUMBAI: Spurning free air tickets, accommodation and higher pay, millions of migrant workers who fled India’s cities when coronavirus hit are too scared to return, with grim implications for the already crumbling economy.

Migrant laborers form the backbone of Asia’s third-biggest economy toiling in every sector from making consumer goods and stitching garments to driving cabs.

But when India went into lockdown in late March, vast numbers lost their jobs, prompting a huge heart-rending exodus back to their home villages, sometimes on foot, their children in their arms. Some died on the way.

Mumbai’s swanky high-rises, for example, were built and largely staffed by people from poorer states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha, who worked as security guards, cooks and cleaners.

But as the city became a virus hotspot, around 80 percent of construction workers left the financial hub after work came to a standstill, according to the Maharashtra Chamber of Housing Industry.

Four months on, with lockdown measures eased, some workers have trickled back but more than 10,000 building sites are lying virtually abandoned due to severe labor shortages across the city.

“We are trying our best to bring back migrant workers, even going to the extent of giving them air tickets, COVID-19 health insurance ... (and) weekly checkups by doctors,” real estate developer Rajesh Prajapati said. “But it has not reaped any positive signs yet,” he told AFP.

Property giant Hiranandani Group which — unusually — continued to pay its workers during lockdown, has had more success, but has still only managed to convince around 30 percent of its 4,500 workers to stay on site.

“We looked after them, took care of their food, safety and sanitization and even had mobile creches for kids,” the group’s billionaire co-founder Niranjan Hiranandani told AFP.

With a colossal slump in growth expected, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has steadily eased restrictions on many businesses even as coronavirus cases surge toward 1.5 million.

But analysts say firms are still staring at a bleak future due to battered finances, stalled projects and crucially, a lack of workers.

Real estate demand has plummeted by almost 90 percent in Mumbai alone, with falling sales and the lull in construction severely affecting access to credit.

“We have a double whammy with the pandemic eroding demand while construction workers are not available,” Pankaj Kapoor, CEO of Mumbai-based consultancy Liases Foras, told AFP.


Sweden bans Huawei, ZTE from upcoming 5G networks

Updated 20 October 2020

Sweden bans Huawei, ZTE from upcoming 5G networks

  • European governments have been reviewing the role of Chinese companies in building their networks
  • Sweden’s security service called China ‘one of the biggest threats against Sweden’

STOCKHOLM: Swedish regulators on Tuesday banned the use of telecom equipment from China’s Huawei and ZTE in its 5G network ahead of the spectrum auction scheduled for next month.
The Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (PTS) said auctions the setting of the license conditions followed assessments by the Swedish Armed Forces and security service.
European governments have been reviewing the role of Chinese companies in building their networks following pressure from the United States, which says they pose a security threat because, among other concerns, Chinese companies and citizens must by law aid the state in intelligence gathering.
Sweden’s security service called China “one of the biggest threats against Sweden.”
The United Kingdom in July ordered Huawei equipment to be purged completely from Britain’s 5G network by 2027, becoming one of the first European countries to do so.
Huawei and ZTE did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the decision by Sweden, home to Ericsson, one of Europe’s leading telecoms equipment suppliers.
“The ban leaves network operators with less options and risks slowing the rollout of 5G in markets where competition is reduced,” said Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight.
The ban is likely to benefit rival telecom equipment makers Ericsson and Finland’s Nokia.
PTS said companies taking part in the auction must remove Huawei and ZTE gear from existing central functions by Jan. 1, 2025.
The regulator defined central functions as equipment used to build the radio access network, the transmission network, the core network and the service and maintenance of the network.
PTS said the license conditions were decided to address the assessments made by the armed forces and security service.
It has approved the participation of Hi3G Access, Net4Mobility, Telia Sverige and Teracom in the planned spectrum auction of 3.5 GHz and 2.3 GHz, key bands crucial for the rollout of 5G.
Tele2 and Telenor will participate together as Net4Mobility to secure spectrum for a joint nationwide 5G network.
Tele2, which uses Huawei equipment in its network, which had earlier called Huawei an important vendor, said the PTS decision “does not change our plans substantially.”
“We may have to phase different costs differently between years to meet security conditions on time,” a spokesman told Reuters.
The 5G spectrum auction was originally planned for early 2020, but last year PTS said it would delay the auction due to a security review. PTS announced in April this year that the auction would begin in November.