This article is written by Kamakshi Chudasma.
India has been developing in terms of the infrastructure sector. We can observe new commercial sites as well as residential projects in our surrounding. It has successfully carried out many projects such as the Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT City), Solar Park. Metro Project, Expansion of Ports, Golden Quadrilateral Road Programme, etc. These projects have helped India accelerate its economic growth.
Individuals across India are transforming their trading businesses into new ventures or IT businesses, developing themselves to match the pace of the changing and developing economy. The people in India are trying to expand and transform themselves as the future depicts a massive urbanization trend. Approximately, 600 million people will live in the urban area by 2030 compared to the current scenario. Due to this shift in the trend, the cities in India are planning to develop as quickly as possible.
This in fact will open up new opportunities in the construction industry as well, as the employment rate will increase. The industry will be able to provide job opportunities to the people due to these new projects. Although in India most of the labour force comes from rural area. The workers are either skilled or semi-skilled. However, there lie certain setbacks to this industry, as the workers are exploited by not providing them with their minimum wages or lack of basic facilities, such as medical facilities or accommodation facilities.
The workers in the construction sector have always faced problems and have been exploited. As they are temporary workers, their labour rights are highly violated. The labour rights are not implemented properly and therefore, the contractors, sub-contractors and companies, exploit their rights. There are approximately 8.5 million workers who are working under the construction sector and carrying out construction-related activities, but being in an unorganized sector and not being able to establish an employee-employer relationship, these workers end up facing such unjust. The workers are not provided with any registrar of the attendance or there isn’t any fixed working hour and this happens mainly because their job is temporary in nature. These same issues are being observed in the ongoing metro project across India, debating about the rights of proper work facilities and the minimum wages.
Background of the Metro Rail Project
The transport facilities like bus or railway or car were not able to cover the demands and were incompetent. It had hindered economic development, increased the level of pollution, reduced the importance of having human resources and fossil fuel. Individuals in India have increased their optimization of using private cars than optimizing the transport facilities provided. Each individual in a family demand for a personal car which has therefore increased pollution. In a developing country such as India, this is a major setback as it has disrupted the economic growth, due to declining use of transport facilities, decreasing employment opportunities and causing environmental issues. To get rid of all such problems as a solution it was decided to develop metro rail in the major cities in India.
The first rail metro was initiated in Kolkata, and as this project turned out to be a total success, it was decided to construct a metro in a few more cities. Currently, there are 10 metro rails ongoing in 10 different cities of India. There are around 381 stations and the rail is extended up to 587 kilometres. Although it will be further extended to 500 and more kilometres by constructing a metro in few more cities.
The first rail transit was constructed in Kolkata in the year 1984, after which it was constructed in Delhi. The rail transit constructed in Delhi is one of the longest and largest networks in the whole of India. Later on, the metro project was initiated in Hyderabad in 2017. The National Urban Transport Policy had proposed in 2006 that a metro-rail transit will be constructed in a city where the population is more than 20 lakhs.
In 2011, the Union Government had decided to provide financial assistance in the course of implementation of metro where the population is more than 1 million and in 2015, the Union Government had proposed to construct rail transit across 50 cities in India.
The labour laws have not been properly admissible at the construction sites. Many labour laws are being violated such as the Minimum Wages Act, Equal Remuneration Act, Bonded Labour System Act, Inter-state Migrant Workmen Act, Contract Labour Act and Building and other Construction Workers Act. There are many workers engaged in working under this sector but due to the type of job they fall under, their rights end up being violated. In India, labour laws are more consistently applied in an organized sector than in an unorganized sector.
The workers working in an unorganized sector are unaware of most of their laws as their relationship with the employer is not very stable and strong. Other than these factors, most of the workers are not a part of any trade union, considering this setback they fail to bring up their problems in front of the employer. The contractors or subcontractors are not able to keep track of the number of workers under them as they do not maintain a proper register at certain sites. They tend to not only violate and exploit the rights of the workers but also the laws formed by the government.
The labour laws are formed merely to provide a sense of security to the workers towards their job, wages, retirement benefits, safety measures, labour unions and their relation with the management. Therefore, to ensure the social security and welfare of the workers, certain regulations had been formed. The International Labour Organization (ILO) was established and along with this, the All-India Trade Union Congress was also formed. Many laws had been also framed to regulate and protect the workers from any social injustice. Beginning from the Factories Act, Industrial Disputes Act, Contract Act to providing minimum wages, equal remunerations and other such benefits to the workers.
Similarly, these legislations are also applicable in the metro rail project, such as the Building and Construction Workers Act which was formed for the welfare of the workers. This act helps the workers by taking one percent of cess from the employers which are involved in the construction of the site i.e., the contractors, sub-contractors and other such companies. This amount then is accumulated and put into the welfare fund of the workers. Further, the workers are provided with the benefits mentioned in the Building and Construction Workers Act.
However, even if these laws are formed, they aren’t being implemented properly. This could be clearly noticed in the ongoing labour law violations faced by the workers in the ‘Namma Metro’ Project. This project had been initiated by Bangalore to construct a rail transit and further develop Bangalore in terms of call centres, software development branches and other such businesses. This project holds a lot of importance in developing Bangalore as a global hub of new and modernized businesses. This project is being funded by international agencies as well, such as Japan International Cooperation Agency and Asian Development Bank.
Working Conditions in the Namma Metro Project
The working conditions of workers working under this project has been really bad. The Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL), central and state labour departments have been neglecting the working conditions of the labourers. According to a report conducted by Karnataka State Construction Workers Central Union (KSCWCU) and the International Transport Workers Federation, the labour laws which were being violated are Contract Labour Act, Inter-State Migrant Workers Act and the Building and other Construction Workers Act.
Challenges faced by the workers
- The employers had made the use of workers lack of awareness of laws, a region of origin, caste, illiteracy, inability to speak in the local language, low financial position and no help or assistance from third parties.
- The workers were not allowed to form an association or a labour union by the employers and other departments.
- It was also found out that they had employed child labourers at the site. M/s Nagarjuna Construction Company, one of the sub-contractors of the Namma Project had employed these child labourers. The Childline Officials had come to rescue and further found out that there were three more child labourers. It was found out that these contractors gave jobs to these underaged workers which belonged to the states like West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh, mainly because they were cheaper and didn’t demand much.
- Since 2009, this project has been blamed for the health issues it has been causing to the workers. 55 percent of the respiratory diseases of workers have been increased as the workers are working with the three most dangerous air pollutants, which are, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. Victoria Hospital had also reported that the number of cases which were being registered has drastically increased to approximately 30 to 45 cases. The workers are victims of diseases such as asthma, bronchitis and other such diseases.
In spite of these issues pertaining to the construction sites, the workers are not provided with any safety equipment. Further, they are also not provided with medical or health benefits by the state government, mainly because the workers are not a part of the welfare board which is present in Karnataka.
Another inspection report was conducted and carried out by the Karnataka High Court and they found out that most of the companies were providing jobs to migrant workers without any license. There was also no proper maintenance of records of the wage slips, register of labourers or employment cards. The migrant workers were not provided with any accommodation or services such as canteens, travelling/ journey allowance, creches, etc. All these requirements are mandated under the act of migrant workers but they weren’t being implied.
The labourers were working rigorously for 11 hours. Few of the workers had to travel daily for almost two hours. The workers were provided with a one-hour lunch break and two 15 minutes of tea breaks in a day. The workers were not being paid for the three hours of overtime of extra work which they carried out. Apart from this, the workers working in the underground tunnel were also not provided with the 2 hours break which they were required to be given according to the regulations. They were also not given leave on a Sunday, instead, they were allowed to take a leave only twice or thrice in a month.
To resolve these issues the companies did form a grievance committee but unfortunately, many of the labourers weren’t informed or had lack of knowledge of the existence of such a committee and as a result they went to tell their problems in front of their immediate employer or labour commissioner, who didn’t really do anything about it.
The pay given to the workers didn’t cause so much trouble as much as their delay did. There was a 2-month delay in the payment to the workers. Even though the workers had carried out sit-in protests two or three times, the problem wasn’t resolved and they were kept unheard by the employer. The workers were not even allowed to work at the site for a long duration. They were kept in the job for around one to four years and all these were based on a contract. This helped the companies to avoid the cost of providing benefits to the workers or to refrain the workers from forming any trade union.
Proper safety equipment was not provided to the workers, instead, they were just handed over a helmet, jacket or boots, etc. Many accidents took place at the construction because of the lack of safety equipment, but it was never taken seriously by the company. A safety gear was provided to the workers but they weren’t so efficient that it could protect them from any major accidents. A Health and Welfare Committee was formed to help the workers at such times but as reported by the workers, these committees were only a namesake and failed to work as they should in terms of the law.
Labour laws cannot be taken lightly, they are some very essential regulations, formed for providing not just justice to the workers but build a sense of integrity in the workers if proper security is provided to them. The study also depicts how important a union is for workers in such unorganized sectors. On one hand, where the workers are fighting for fair justice, on the other hand, the construction companies are making use of their power, as a result building the level of the bureaucracy of the contractors and subcontractors, as they give more importance to their vested interest in the work than that of the workers. The trends in urbanization have changed drastically and while this development has helped India in raising its economic growth, there still lies certain aspects which have remained unchanged and uncanny.
As observed earlier in the study, the Namma project clearly states the manner in which the labour laws are being violated and the workers having been given no level of empowerment. Not only have these rights been snatched from the workers, it clearly shows how the companies are taking these laws so lightly, such as, the Welfare and Health Committee which have been formed only for the namesake. This kind of situation is not only observed at these particular projects but at all the metro rail transit construction sites, from the Delhi metro project to the Ahmedabad project to the Hyderabad project, the labourers have been facing such type of exploitation.
There is a lack of enforcement of laws in terms of not providing the required number of minimum wages at the projects mentioned above, such as, in Hyderabad the minimum wages of the workers lie in between Rs. 268.69 and Rs. 329 for the unskilled workers and for the skilled workers the wage is between Rs. 329 – Rs. 400, but the workers are being paid considerably less than that i.e., Rs. 275. This same problem of wages is observed in Ahmedabad, Delhi construction sites. Another law being unimplemented is the major exploitation on the part of the migrant workers as stated under the act Inter-State Migrant Workers. They are not being provided the facilities according to the act and as the workers are unaware of most of the laws, they can easily be kept in the dark.
The construction sector needs a lot of improvement with consideration of their labour laws and the campaigns carried out by the companies can bring about certain change. The legislation can be made stricter with the employers so that they don’t put their interest in the upper hand than that of the employers. The grievance committee formed by the legislation can bring about a lot of help for the workers as it becomes difficult for them to fight for it considering their lack of empowerment in the sector. But if these labourers fight as one for a cause it can bring them a lot of help, as in certain scenarios, such as, in the Namma project, they filed a case against their immediate seniors and they were put behind the bars.
One thing which can be clearly understood by the whole study is that these laws can be violated in such a manner, they are very essential in not only this sector but all the sectors and even we want a change. The government and welfare boards need to become stringent and more accountable towards the labourers mainly because the public institutions and laws have failed to protect the workers from such exploitation.
- https://labour.gov.in/sites/default/files/EC Act.pdf
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