Thursday, May 29, 2008

Migrant labourers' plight: report of Janakeeya Manushyavakasa Prasthanam

Even as the real estate bubble bursts in the yankee empire , elsewhere in the world its a booming business. And as the emerging new middle class of the so called 'resurgent India' is busy setting up their exclusive empires within the counry, on the receiving end is the working class. By effectively applying the migrant labour force and thereby curtailing the bargaining powers of the entire working class, the oppressors deprive workers of all their fundamental rights. Following the accident death of two migrant labourers at a construction site in Kerala, the fact finding team of Janakeeya Manushyavakasa Prasthanam (People's Human Rights Organisation) madea visit to the spot. Given below is the the report of the team and it points t o the urgent need of the workers to get united against all kinds of exploitations.

Report of the fact finding conducted by organising committee of ‘Janakeeya Manushyavakasa Prasthanam(Peoples Human Rights Organisation) on the death of two Bengali labourers in the construction site of Olive Builders at Edachira opposite to Infopark,Kakkanad

Large scale migration of other state workers to our state in search of job is not a new phenomenon. Biharis who reap rice and the meeting other state labourers at Perumbavoor town every Sunday are part of our present life. Their presence is more prominent in the building construction sector, which has a decisive place in the economy of Kerala. Construction of buildings for commercial and residential purposes has turned out to be very active in the economy of Kerala. Construction work has been grown from isolated enterprises to joint ventures and thereafter to a centralized one. This sector has become a venue for the capitalist forces to invest, from both inside and outside Kerala . It has been now changed into a major force which influences not only the economy but also the social life of Kerala. But the activities of this sector is dubious and non transparent. Lack of transparency is obvious in all the areas from the purchase land to the wages paid to the labourers.. Present status of the other state workers clearly depicts the difference between the notions about the high wages and union strength of the workers in Kerala and the actual situation. Today the workers from other states are essential part of the construction sector in Kerala. Nobody knows how many labourers from other states work in this sector. But everyone admits one thing - Labourers from other states working in this sector do not get wages and other amenities as a Keralite worker gets in the same sector. The conditions of these labourers – who reach here as cattle lead by labour contractors - are so pathetic. Previously major import was from Tamil Nadu , now it is from Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. These workers employed here do not enjoy any labour rights least to say not even the essential . Accidents are common in this sector. But where death occurs only some news leaks out.

Exploitation of other state workers has become a major source of profit for builders. It is not an exaggeration that many of the large scale construction projects in Ernakulam are started taking into account the availability and work potential of the other state workers. Their presence in the construction sector and the exploitation they facing is good example of the dominance of lifeless money over living human beings.

It was on 16/04/2008 Sameer Behara from Koralda village, Purbo Madhenpur District of West Bengal and Navkumar Mythi from Horina village of the same district died in an accident while they were engaged in the construction work of a flat of Olive Builders in Kakkanad. This report includes the facts revealed to the fact finding team of Janakeeya Manushyavakasa Prasthanam who visited the place and conducted enquiry following the incident on 17.04.2008, 20.04.2008, and on 21.04.2008. Apart from the enquiry regarding the accident the report includes the details regarding the working and living conditions of the other state workers. Adv. Thushar Nirmal Sarathy, Jaison Cooper, Bruno George, Swapnesh, Martin and Adv. Nandini were the members of the fact finding team.

On 17.04.2008,20.04.2008 and 21.04.2008 the fact finding team visited the accident site and collected the details from the workers and the local people. After that on 25/04/2008 the team met the District Labour Officer Mr. Sreehari and ASI of Thrikkakara Police station Mr. Mohanan .The report is based on the details collected by the team.

The construction site of Olive Builders is in Kakkanad Edachira road near Infopark. The project includes about 17 villas and 5 flats. Since the approval of Smart city project , foreseeing the large scale residential necessity, now Kakkanad area is a centre of construction works. Presently there are more than 10 construction sites by the side of Kakkanad-Infopark route which is hardly 2 Kms. Another important aspect of this area is the unbridled increase in house rent. 80% of the workers engaged in the construction works are from other states. The site of the Olive builders is one of the large projects among the construction works in this area.

The accident occured at the site of Olive Builders at 11.45AM on 16/04/2008.Sameer Behara and Navkumar Mythi fell down from the 18th floor of the building while plastering the outer wall . They were propped up in an iron bucket of about 7 meter long and 1 meter high. According to the other workers and the security personnel accident happened due to loosening and consequent separation of the nut and bolt joining the rope and iron bucket. Behara and Mythi died on the spot. According to the local people the supervisors and contractors who were present at the time of accident immediately ran way from the site. Only due to the interference of loading workers and local people they were taken to the hospital. The workers were brought to Sunrise Hospital Kakkanad, where death was confirmed by 12.45 PM.

Absence of security measures and precautions which have to be ensured in dangerous construction works is obvious in this case. All the workers whom the team met unanimously agreed that no security measures are followed there. Safety belts were not given to the labourers who died. Both of them were the contract labourers of G.K contractors who supply workers for Olive. But when we asked the labourers where the Head Offices of G.K contractors and Olive Builders are located, nobody could answer. G.K Contractors distributes attendance cards to workers every month. In one of the cards issued for the month of February the address was given was “G.K Contractors, First Floor, Durga Lakshmi Building, T.D Road Cochin” where as in the card issued for the month of March it was written as “G.K. Contractors, KKN Complex, Kizhvana Road, Panampilly Nagar. P.O. Cochin”.

It is obvious that the death of the two labourers occurred due to the absence of security measures. If they were provided safety belt the accident would have been avoided. Building and Other Construction Workers Act of 1996 details the safety measures and precautions to be taken during these types of construction works. But during enquiry the team could find none . Safety belts and Safety nets were not provided. Dilvar from Murshidabad and Amir Hussain from Cooch Behar told that they are not even provided with helmet and shoes which are compulsory for building/ construction workers as stipulated in above act. Labourers who were engaged in the construction of Tejomaya Building for L&T at Infopark also told us about the lack of safety measures at Olive’s site. When asked ‘How they know about the lack of safety measures in Olive’s site’ Jojo from Kolkotha who is a worker of L&T replied, that is a common sight these workers working without even a helmet in such heights.

Thrikkakkara Police investigated the incident on 16/04/2008 and a crime was registered as Cr No.363/2008 under section 174 of Cr.P.C for the unnatural death of workers. Usually F.I.R has to be sent to the concerned Magistrate court. But the F.I.R registered u/s 174 Cr.P.C should sent to concerned Sub Divisional Magistrate. One important aspect of the F.I.R under section 174 Cr.P.C is that the any name of the accused will not be given in the F.I.R. But during the investigation if any criminal activity is found behind the death, the Police are bound to incorporate the concerned penal provisions in the F.I.R and also to file the report before the concerned Judicial first class Magistrate and proceed accordingly. ASI Mohanan of Thrikkakara Police Station told the fact finding team that the police had found that crime u/s 304-A of IPC (which deals with death caused by negligence) is committed in this incident. He also told that the case is registered against a contractor and two main supervisors. But our enquiry revealed that till 26/04/2008 no case has come up before the Aluva Judicial First Class Magistrate court. Not only that, as the contractor and the builder who is the principle employer are the legally responsible persons for the safety of the employees, not proceeding against the builder will definitely weaken and ultimately defeat the Police case. As per the information given by the ASI the Police are not interested in proceeding against the builder.

District labour officer (enforcement) Ernakulam Mr.Sreehari told the team that labour department will proceed against the builder and contractor for their negligence in implementing the safety measures. Imprisonment for three months or a fine of rupees upto 2000 or both is the prescribed punishment for such negligence. For a builder / a contractor who is investing crores of Rupees, the above punishment is not at all heavy. Most probably the punishment will end with the payment of the fine.

The workers who died had insurance claim. DLO told the fact finding team that the contractors should insure the workers compulsorily as they have to work in precarious conditions. He admitted that normally they don’t insure all the workers. For getting license from the Local Self Bodies insuring the workers being compulsory the contractors and builders insure some of the workers and get the license and do not give the actual number of workers. This is what is normally happening in this sector and the Local Self Government Bodies are liable to enquire this matter, DLO told.
DLO informed us that an amount of about Rs.4.5 lakh is deposited with the WCC(Workmen Compensation Commission) as insurance for the workers who died. He also informed that after issuing notice to the West Bengal WCC and proper enquiry this amount will be disbursed to the dependants of the deceased workers. Alternatively the dependants can make claim before WCC Ernakulam directly for the amount.

Working Conditions

It is obvious that the workers are highly exploited at the work site by the Olive Builders. The working time is from 8A.M to 5PM.Workers told that they would get an interval of half an hour in the morning from 10-10.30 and one hour at noon for lunch and rest.

The workers who are doing the same work are getting different wages. Dilwar and Munnah who are masons are getting Rs.200 whereas Amir Hussain and Mohammed Ikramudein who are also doing the same work are getting Rs.190. Workers told us that there are a few masons working for Rs.180 also. Helpers are getting Rs.140 carpenter 250 .Workers who are doing outside cement plastering are getting 260 rupees, for grill fitting Rs.190. At the same time the wages for a Keralite mason is Rs.300 and for a helper is Rs.200-250. During our conversation with DLO, initially he denied the disparity in wages. But later he admitted that such disparity exists and put forward a strange argument that the other state workers are saving more than Keralites by doing overtime work. He also told till that date no complaint with regard to this disparity has been received. Overtime works are done in almost all the sites till 9.00pm.Mason and helper doing overtime work would get Rs.50 and Rs.20 respectively per hour. As they are coming from far off places it would not be profitable if there is no overtime works. Due to the force of circumstances most of the other state labours do overtime works.

DLO told that Olive builders are permitted to employ 100 workers in this site. But when asked how many workers are permitted under G.K contractors, DLO said that he had received applications only from G.K Contractors and not the list of workers. DLO evaded our question by saying that for each work separate contract permission is necessary and so he cannot give the total number of workers employed by G.K contractors. Whatever may be the number of labourers in the records of Government we found that a total number of workers between 600and 1000 were employed in this site till the date of accident. Workers informed that more than 600 other state labourers are working there. Some of the Keralite security staff told us that more than 1000 other state workers are employed there. They were reluctant to reveal their names. Among the other state workers majority is from West Bengal. Workers from Orissa and a few Nepalese are also there.

Living Conditions

These workers are residing in temporary shelters built in these work sites. These shelters are made of tin sheets or plastic. Each shelter is partitioned into rooms of are about 10 X 10. Ten workers are accommodated in each room. They prepare their food in these same rooms. The floor area in which they are sleeping is raised about 5 cms from the normal level with gravel and cement. Other than these shelters the rooms in the under construction flats are also used for the accommodation of the labourers. They are open rooms without doors and windows. Four or five workers are put up in each room. Cooking also is done in these rooms. There are electric bulbs for light during night in these rooms. But there is no provision for light outside these rooms. These workers have to walk through the narrow path in between of stacked gravel, iron rods and other building materials in the dark, which is very risky.
There is no sufficient provision for drainage. Even though small drains are there, we found cesspools of water stag around these shelters. Workers told us that there are a lot of mosquitoes. They are using mosquito coils and net to save themselves from mosquitoes. Even then they cannot sleep well.

There are no sufficient toilet facilities. There are only 10 latrines in this site where about 1000 labourers are working. The ratio prescribed by the law about the number of labourers and latrine is not followed here. Latrines are very untidy and without sufficient privacy and covering .These latrines built with wooden sticks, covered with plastic sheets lack privacy. These are very close to the temporary shelter in which these labourers are living. These latrines openly violate the legally prescribed distance and also the requirements of public health authorities regarding the construction and use of latrines. Latrines being unclean and limited in number the workers told us that they are depending the adjacent compounds for their toilet needs

There is not a single urinal in this site where these so many labourers are working.

There is no facility for bathing and washing. They are using Edachira canal close to this site for these purposes .The water in this canal is dirty and polluted. The workers informed us that they are having health problems due to the use of this water. They showed us wounds and scars due to itching because of this dirty water. Water is provided in tanker lorries for drinking and preparing food only.

Workers are not aware of any first aid facility in the site. There is no canteen facility .As per law the builder and the contractor are liable to provide canteen facility in a site where 500 or more workers are employed.

We could not find any notice board or labour law exhibited in the site which is mandatory. The workers told us that there is no such practice.

This site, where there in such serious violation of labour laws, is hardly 2 KM away from the District Labour Office. But the enforcement DLO told us that there is no violation of law in the site. He told us that as per law they have to look only into the matters regarding safety belts, helmets, shoes, first aid, fire extinguishers and wages. He also told us that there is no provision in law to provide shelters for the workers. All the construction sites including this site are having safety measures. But the workers from other states are reluctant to use these safety measures,for the reason that they are having difficulty in working by using these. He also informed that 5 workers from other states have died within two months in Kakkanad area. According to him these workers are not entitled to claim the benefits of Interstate migrant workmen’s act 1979 because they are not recruited from their states by any contractor. These workers came here voluntarily. So the 1979 act is not applicable as such. He also informed that the Industrial Relations Board’s meeting recently held at Ernakulam had discussed these problems and actions will be taken within two months.

Unfortunately the stance of the DLO is not maintainable either in law or in facts. There is large scale recruitment of workers from other states. For our question ‘how they came here’ the workers gave different answers. Some of them answered that they came here on the information given by the persons from their villages who had come here for employment previously. But some others secretly admitted that they were recruited by some agents of their contractors. They also informed us that they have got strict directions not to disclose this fact and that the agents are getting commissions for recruiting them. It can be assumed that the Interstate Migrant Workmen Act of 1979 is intentionally sabotaged. Recently there were some reports in news papers about the other state workers who were released by the local people from the clutches of the agent. Large scale organised migration of workers in construction sector is itself speaks about the recruitment by the agents in this sector.

The disparity of wages between the other state workers and local Keralite workers is a violation of fundamental right envisaged in our constitution. But the labour department is closing its eyes against this violation of fundamental right by raising such flimsy arguments as there is only a difference of 20-30 rupees, and by doing overtime work other state workers are getting more.

The stand put forward by the DLO is that they are not liable to enquire about the facilities given to the workers. Building and other construction workers (Regulation of employment and condition of service) Act 1996 details about the facilities which should be provided for workers like canteen, accommodation facilities, latrines, urinals and washing facilities besides safety measures. Even after the blatant violation of all these provisions the labour department is not taking any action.

DLO states that accidents occur due to the negligence on the part of migrant labourers to take safety measures . But at the same time he says that labour department is taking steps to instruct the builders about the safety measures with the help of builder’s organisations like K.B.F and K.B.A. There by he is admitting indirectly ,the lack of safety measures in the construction sites. However he told that they have given strict instructions not to allow work without proper safety measures after the Kakkanad incident.

From enquiry the fact finding team arrived at the following conclusions

1) High exploitation, violating all labour laws is prevalent in this sector.
2) Most of the other state workers are recruited by the agents from their own states. None of the records regarding this fact is kept anywhere. To evade the Interstate Migrant Workmen’s act of 1979, it is widely spread that they are helping the workers by employing them. Workers are also forced to tell this lie. Labour department also propagates the same lie.
3) Keralite workers and workers from other states are treated differently. Most of the dangerous and difficult works are done by the workers from other states and they are given meagre wages. A Keralite worker gets more wages than a worker from other state who is doing the same work.
4) No adequate provisions are made for the food, accommodation and other related facilities for the workers from other states. Attitude of builders and contractors is that all of these are the responsibility of the labourers. Labour department also takes this same stand.
5) Adequate precautions and safety measures are not taken required to safeguard the health and life of the workers. If at all any there is any, it is nominal. Labourers who meet with accidents are treated in hospitals but the expense incurred is deducted from their wages and they are send back to their native land. This is the usual practice. Workers are not sensitized about the safety precautions.
6) Even though violation of labour laws is so rampant the concerned Government departments do not take any action. Neglect of safety measures, exploitation of labour, low wages, unscientific and illegal construction works and fraudulence taking advantage of their ignorance in the language is widespread in this construction sector. Most of the workers are ignorant about even the name and address of builders and contractors. Often they are forced to work continuously without rest.

7) The established trade unions in the construction sector are reluctant to interfere against the exploitation of other state workers. The instance of local trade
union leaders coming against these workers as helpers of builders and contractors are not rare.


The electrocuted death of Murugan (22) from Tamilnadu who is an inter state migrant construction worker occurred recently after the preparation of this report .He was electrocuted while he was engaged in piling work in a construction site near the toll gate by the side of Tripunithura-cochin refinery road.

No comments: