Upholding the rights of construction workers
Life as a construction worker
Every day we stand at the naka (road junction), looking for work. Being new to the city, it’s not just difficult to find work, no one wants to rent us a place either. Even when we manage to find work, we’re asked to furnish an ID proof; the lack of it opens up a new set of problems.
This cycle of events has kept repeating itself in Prakash Narvade’s life. Originally from Vidarbha in eastern Maharashtra, he was forced to leave his village when a drought struck. Hopes for a brighter future led him to seek employment in the city, but it’s not been too promising here either. At a time, he has managed to negotiate for only about eight days of work per month with the labour contractor. It has been difficult to meet even basic expenses with the wages received. And that’s not all. There are times when he has worked and not received any payment for it.
The concern of millions
Prakash is not the only one experiencing injustice at work. In a rapidly growing industry employing over over 41 million construction labourers across the country, this is an oft-heard tale.
As per the Building and Other Construction Workers Act (BOCW) 1996, for every construction project 1% of the total amount over ₹5 lakh should be submitted as ‘welfare cess’ to the Labour Department. The Maharashtra Government has not even been able to spend 6% of the total collections (amounting to ₹3,065 crore) so far. While there are about 55 lakh workers in the state, only about 3 lakh are registered. The national figures are even more distressing. On International Labour day itself, the Supreme Court rapped the central and state governments for sitting on ₹20,000–25,000 crore funds meant for the construction workers. According to the findings of an RTI activist, the government owes almost ₹10,000 to each labourer, and in states like Goa this amounts upto ₹5 lakh per labourer.
Labourers too are often in the dark about their social security entitlements and the government legislation that is in place. YUVA has been attempting to address this gap by facilitating access to basic identity documents that help in worker registration, and supporting labourers in the fight for their rights.
Ensuring wage recovery
‘Once I had worked but did not receive any wages. The labour contractor wouldn’t take my calls. I was helpless,” Prakash narrates. His friend asked him to approach the YUVA labour helpline. He registered the complaint, providing the necessary details. With additional pressure now on him, the contractor agreed to pay back, but it took many more calls and multiple home visits to finally make it happen.
“The contractor owed me ₹6,000. When he finally repaid me, I could pay off my house rent and meet some other expenses”, says Prakash.
The YUVA labour helpline was set up in 2012 to address the concerns of migrant workers in Navi Mumbai. The helpline is a medium to negotiate with builders and contractors, to ensure that labour rights are upheld.
Since being set up, the labour helpline has registered over 500 cases, 400 of which have been resolved. Over ₹62 lakh wages have been recovered and repaid to those who toiled for it.
Our efforts since 2012 pay off: The Maharashtra BOCW Welfare Board registers #ConstructionWorkers of Navi Mumbai, paving the way for their #socialsecurity. A milestone guiding future achievements #unequalrealities #leavenoonebehind #right2city pic.twitter.com/vTEwd2WcTi
— YUVA (@OfficialYUVA) December 23, 2017
Upon earning his dues, and with the knowledge of how this has been enabled, Prakash’s confidence has received a boost. Nowadays, he tries to ensure that others around him don’t remain silent when they are in a similar predicament.
‘We have a right to fair wages for the work we engage in. No one should try to deprive us of our dues’, he says.
Only when funds allocated for informal workers are made accessible to them and utilised for their healthcare, housing, education and other welfare requirements, will quality of life improve among millions of exploited labourers.
Currently, YUVA is in touch with the State Labour Commission to institutionalise the labour helpline and run it across other districts beyond the Mumbai Metropolitan Region. Worker registration formalities are also being facilitated alongside. The act of claiming social security for workers is gradually receiving greater support from administrative authorities, and we are hopeful about expanding the reach of the helpline.