Labour shortage impedes operations at Alang shipbreaking yards

The world’s biggest shipbreaking yard in Alang, Gujarat, has resumed work by end April but they are all smarting under an acute shortage of labour.

“There is no labour for loading, unloading and ship cutting. Imagine running this labour intensive unit with just 30% of workers,” said Haresh Parmar, a ship-breaker at Alang and a joint secretary of ship recycling industries association (SRIA).

“Demolition units commenced cutting operations with limited liability and ever since the migration was sanctioned, there are at an average 8 buses leaving full of workers to their native villages,” said Chandresh Yadav, researcher at Alang Info services.

All ship breaking companies had given full salaries and even promised higher incentives for their workers who come back, yet there is no clarity from the government on the return of labour.

“The fate of Alang now is completely in the hands of the migrating workers,” said Yadav.

The government has given permission for vessels with Indian crew to enter Alang, but those with foreign crew are not allowed to beach. Vessels with foreign crews are at least 40% higher than vessels with Indian crew, as per one ship breaking company.

Besides labour shortage, companies in Alang are also grappling with high fixed charges by Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB), such as plot rent, electricity and housing cess, Parmar said.

“We have requested GMB that they should waive our fixed charges. There is no liquidity. There is no labour. We have payments in dollars pending, but work isn’t happening in full scale,” he said.

Most of the units operating at Alang are hypothecated to banks and with operations coming to a standstill; they are bound to pay banks higher amounts.

“If the government gave enough support to the sector, ship breakers would have been in a better position to provide additional helping hand for workers and they would not have left for their villages,” Yadav said.