Millennium Post

Rebuilding India?

Labourers start bracing around Moti Nagar labour mandi for what promises to be a long muggy day. Some keep sitting anxiously waiting for work while some get employed by contractors before <g data-gr-id="71">peek</g> hours of office start invading the road. They start gathering in groups and by noon the entire area gets jam-packed with people alike, in lieu of work.     

Contract labour is one of the acute <g data-gr-id="126">form</g> of unorganised labour in the country today. Under this system, workers are employed on contracts by various contractors. The system of employing contract labour is prevalent in most industries which include skilled and semi skilled jobs. Contract workmen are indirect employees, who are hired, supervised and remunerated by a contractor who, in turn, is compensated by the establishment. The practice of employing labour through contractors and other agencies for a specific and indefinite period of time avoid a direct nexus between employers and their workmen, which in turn leads to whole-scale exploitation of the labour community.

Their hopeful eyes wait for work as the day passes by with no luck. Labourers, in their early years, seem to be relaxed as compared to a group, sitting in the corner, waiting from morning to dawn, only to fetch some work. Most of them who get work are of to their construction sites in the wee of hours of morning itself while some are left behind still waiting. This cornered group of people mostly consist of the elderly, who physically seem incapable to handle such a tedious work. 

This is the ugly truth of this unorganised sector, the demand graph witness constant decrease with increase in age. Since most of the work is given to the younger segment, survival of the elderly becomes questionable. It also gets difficult for them to seek another job as they get comfortable with the skill and it ends up being their only skill. <g data-gr-id="133">Inspite</g> of their experience and hard work, they fail to meet the demand of the contractors, who mainly focus on body strength and the potential to work for several hours. “A younger person will be hired before us even if we work twice as hard just because he looks fit”, said Lalan Kumar, a worker from Ramesh Chowk mandi. 

Disparity in remuneration is also witnessed between both genders as women are paid less than men. “In spite of Equal Remuneration Act, a man is paid Rs 400 whereas a women is paid Rs 300 for the same work. Their are 18 schemes under construction worker board but only two are for women,” said Amzad Hassan, General Secretary, Delhi Sangathit Nirman Majdori.

Seemingly, life in a metropolitan city is not easy as the living expenses are much more as compared to any other city. <g data-gr-id="89">Fasal</g> Khan, who has been a construction worker all his life, says: “If we work as regular labourers they pay us Rs 250 per day, out of which Rs 100 is spent as room rent. <g data-gr-id="111">Therefore</g> we divert towards labour chowk hoping that fair prices will be paid here.”

As most of their earnings get consumed in living expenses they fail to save for the future and hence succumb into the lineage of the vulnerable section of the society. Inferior labour status, casual nature of employment, lack of job security and poor economic conditions are the major characteristics of contract labour. “There are about 10 lakh construction labourers in the city and only <g data-gr-id="118">few are</g> identified on paper. Recognition is the basic problem of these labourers because of which they can not be permanently employed in any project. And the system that recruits them permanently is very unjust as they are <g data-gr-id="116">payed</g> terribly less and are <g data-gr-id="120">offen</g> kicked out after few days of work itself. Some government intervention is required in this sector to provide basic facilities to these labourers like <g data-gr-id="114">toilet</g>, drinking water and proper sitting sheds in mandis,” said <g data-gr-id="122">Arbind</g> Singh, executive director of Nidan, an NGO.

The <g data-gr-id="104">recent</g> proposed amendments in the Factories Act, 1948 and the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, which went through a number of expert <g data-gr-id="105">committees,</g> seems to be a mixed bag. In some <g data-gr-id="101">areas</g> it looks petty, anti-labour and poorly <g data-gr-id="99">conceived,</g> while in some it favours the labour class. But, in all, it lacks the vision that a global power ought to have, which indicates increase in productivity from satisfied labour class, who produce quality products.

The proposed amendments <g data-gr-id="131">aims</g>’ to increase overtime hours from the current limit of 50 hours per quarter to 100 hours per quarter. With the approval of state government, the amendment also proposes this limit to be increased to a maximum of 125 hours per quarter. The amendment is expected to allow women for night duty with adequate safety and also ensure provision for 
transport after work. It also ensures safe working conditions for employees working in <g data-gr-id="129">hazardous</g> environment as well as <g data-gr-id="130">provision</g> of canteen facilities. Factories employing 200 or more workers would have to provide canteen facilities instead of the present provision of 250 workers. It also provides for shelters or restrooms and lunchrooms in factories in which 75 or more workers are employed instead of the present stipulation of 150 workers. The changes also aim to prohibit pregnant women and physically handicapped people from being assigned to machinery-in-motion. It also reduces the eligibility for entitlement of annual leave-with-wages to 90 days from the existing 240 days.

“The irony with the Modi government is that they preach to be a government of people’s opinion but regarding the labour chowk issue they deliberately took the decision to amend the laws of the construction board and without concerning the labour union they forwarded it to the Parliament. A meeting was thereafter held with the labour union, just as a formality, ordering them to amend the concerned laws,” said Amzad Hassan.

There is a dire need for the labour department to organise themselves and establish a separate department for the unorganised sector.  “An unused sum of  Rs 400 crore is lying with Construction Welfare Board, which is collected from schemes and builders who deposit a certain sum of money to the government before constructing a building. This money can be put to great use and can revamp the ancient mandis”, said Singh.

“There are 200 labour chowks in the city with approximately 15 to 60 workers in each and the situation of these have not changed since last 50 years.  None of these chowks <g data-gr-id="96">are</g> authorised and are held on the land of MCD or DDA. Whenever the issue is discussed with the state government they tend find some escape rout by saying market federation is creating problem  for the traffic will be affected,” said Subhas Bhatnagar, head of DWI, International Federation of Trade Union, South Asia.

It is unfortunate that even decades after Independence, this basic democratic right remains elusive. Strategies, schemes will only prove effective if it reaches to the ground level, right where the heart of the country lies. For the time being the irony of the profession remains the same: they spent their whole lives carving homes for others, furnishing them, giving them skill and warmth of their hands but fail to make one such for themselves.
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