It has been two years since Suchithra*, who was working in a garment factory in Kerala’s Ernakulam district, met her family back in her hometown in Odisha. Desperate to be with her loved ones during the lockdown, and hearing that many other migrant workers in Kerala are returning to their home states, Suchithra resigned her job planning to go back to Odisha in a Shramik train. But she along with over hundred other women who resigned their jobs similarly are still stuck in the hostels of KITEX Garments, the company they worked for.
About 150 women, most of them hailing from Odisha’s Kendrapara district, are now calling out for help, asking officials to arrange transport for them. The workers also allege that they are not being provided proper food by the company.
“It has been 1.5 to 2 years since most of us went home. We want to be with our families, we don't want to return. We’re complaining because they’re not arranging transport for us. Officials from the Labour department and an Odia speaking person had come here. They said they’ll put us on the first train to Odisha. They said they’ll take us in batches, but we insisted that we should be sent back together,” said Suchithra, who worked as a tailor at KITEX Garments, which is located at Kizhakkambalam in Ernakulam district.
Of the 5,000 migrant workers working in the factory currently, 1,500 workers, mostly women, hail from Odisha. While others continue to work at the garment factory, 151 Odisha women have said they want to go back to their home state.
“Workers from other states left in the first week of May, only we’ve been left behind. We want to go home. Officials from the Kerala government said that we can go when the train services resume. But now we’re facing issues with food too. While the people running the canteen eat dishes like puri, upma and Maggi noodles, we’re given mere bread and watered-down tea,” Suchithra said.
Meanwhile, officials from KITEX Garments denied the allegation that workers are not being given adequate food.
“There are 5,000 workers in our hostels at present, we’re providing everyone the same dishes. We’re not discriminating against anyone. We also don’t have a problem with the workers going back home. We even told the Labour department officials that we’ll bear the cost of their travel, but at present there is no Shramik train from Kerala to Odisha,” an official from KITEX Garments told TNM.
He also said that though the Labour department had initially said there will be trains on May 9 and 10, they were later cancelled.
All the 151 workers have also signed a document stating that they are resigning from the company.
“We have been sitting here since March without work. The officials shut the factory in March when the pandemic started. Now, the factory has started functioning slowly,” said Suchithra.
Reacting to the statement, an official from KITEX Garments told TNM that though the factory had been shut for a week in March, it soon resumed operations, and that there was no need for the workers to resign.
“The workers have been receiving messages from people in Odisha that there will be Shramik trains. So they resigned and are waiting for trains. They’re frustrated thinking about their families. We’ve taken steps to provide counselling facilities for them till the time they are in Kerala,” said a Labour department official.
* Name changed
(With inputs from Shiba Kurian)