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Sivakasi turns a no vacancy town

Sivakasi turns a no vacancy town

From a town buzzing with industrial activity with ‘wanted’ advertisements hanging at many industrial units and establishments round the year, Sivakasi has turned into a ‘no vacancy’ town as a fallout of the indefinite closure of firecracker industries from the first week of November. While close to 8 lakh people are affected by the shutdown, only a negligible number of workers has managed to find a job.

Saraswathiammal, 80, Veeramani, 50, Amutha, 50, and Vijaya, 40, of Viswanatham near Sivakasi who were working in firecracker units have been looking for a job for more than a month now. They used to start from their home at 9 am and walk till 3 pm to find a job. On the way they step into every printing press, match box factory, paper cup and cardboard box making company in search of a job. "This went on for a week in December, but we returned disappointed every day. We took a different route every day in the hope that someone would hire us. They were also affected by the crisis as their business is also dependent on firecracker industries. They asked us to come back after the cracker units are reopened," Saraswathiammal said.

According to M Mahalakshmi, district general secretary of Virudhunagar District Crackers and Match Workers Union, 8 lakh people were directly and indirectly employed in the sector. While the number might look very high for this small town, industry sources and trade unions claimed that 3 lakh laborers are directly employed in the industry. "It includes 1.5 lakh people who are working with chemicals and an equal number who are engaged in works such as filling mud in crackers, colouring, cutting and pasting," she said.

She added that the remaining five lakh people are indirectly employed in the fireworks and match box industry. This includes printing labels, boxes and decoration materials in different shapes and sizes (1.5 lakh labourers), load men (1.5 labourers), drivers and cleaners (1 lakh) and traders, agents and marketing men (1 lakh). The thriving cracker industry paved way for the off-set printing press in Sivakasi.

Closure of the firecracker units has affected all of them. Less than 1% of the jobless workforce could be accommodated in the match stick industry which is semi-mechanized and already in a saturated state. A few hundred people who were temporarily employed during the peak season for calendar and diary making in December are jobless now.

Textile mills in Rajapalayam – nearest town in the same district – wanted those aged below 35 years to work for them for a much lesser pay for a short stint. Construction sector has also slowed down and realising the mounting unemployment due to the crisis, employers in this sector have reduced the daily wage from Rs 500 to Rs 300 to Rs 350 and this job is not regular.

"We are not in a position to bargain," said S Leelavathy of Sivakamipuram Colony. The widow and her three sons worked in the firecracker units. Following the closure, the family survives on the earnings of her eldest son Natesan, a B.Com graduate, who goes for construction works twice a week. "We survive on the weekly earning of Rs 600 to Rs 650," she said.

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