By Dr. Payal Kanodia
Indubitably, the construction sector holds an ancestral tradition of providing employment to migrant labour and the number of workers recruited on wage basis is huge. It is no news that the construction industry, with its unending demand for unskilled labour, ultimately provides employment to a major chunk of the migrant workforce. Often, considering all factors, they are given a step-motherly treatment.
Currently, the estimate tells a daunting story; In our nation, 350 million workers are in the unorganised sector, out of which 50%, i.e., close to 175 million are in the construction industry.
As per the Economic survey conducted in 2017, Around 5 to 6 million people migrated annually over the last decade. As per the government of India, the construction sector constitutes 9 percent of the GDP. The entry of the migrants into the labour market isn’t alien to challenges and shortcomings. More often than not, the labour lacks proper shelter, food, sanitation, safety& health care.
Known for celebrating the triumph of the past labour movement, Labour Day led to creation of a significant number of decision-making organizations, with the sole purpose of carefully scrutinising and looking into the regulations and rights of the workers.
Even in presence of multiple boards and bodies carefully looking into this aspect, according to the Ministry of Labour and Employment, only 2.2% of the construction workers manage to avail some kind of social security benefits. Adding to this, according to a survey conducted by an organisation at grass root level in the month of March, 2020; 94 percent of labourers didn’t have BOCW cards, making them ineligible for availing any perks. Further, 14% didn’t have ration cards and 17% didn’t have bank accounts.
Having been an active part of the construction business fraternity for quite some time now, I did cross paths with these aforementioned statistics and conditions that the workers go through on a day-to-day basis. We as a family always had an intent that constantly kept pricking us day in and day out. This was when the seed of M3M Foundation was cast. We designed various programmes, initiatives and interventions and left no stone unturned invalidating the construction workers that come what may, there is a better tomorrow waiting for them even amidst trying times.
As we began working with them, we were exposed to problems that were a lot more deep-rooted and a matter of immediate concern. We learned that we couldn’t confine our hands to just the construction workers but extending our support to their children and their families also became a matter of priority. Thus, ‘iMpower’ was initiated with the sole purpose of providing welfare to the construction workers and their families. Presently, 714 families are directly linked with the programme and its intent, 600 children are getting academically benefited out of the same, 350 women & youth have acquired knowledge and exposure of various skill development activities. Moreover, 5000 individuals benefitted from the frequent health camps conducted and organised at different construction sites.
During the covid outbreak, under our meticulously designed programme, ‘Kartavya,’ we provided cooked food & dry ration for approximately 2,00,000 construction workers and families during the 1st wave of the pandemic. To retain the workers and in order to instil a sense of assurance in them, we syndicated with ISKCON and started “POSHAN,” wherein, in the last one year, close to 1 million meals were catered to the construction workers in Gurgaon. The motive was to not let our beloved workers go to sleep with an empty stomach and to ensure that their food consumption levels do not deteriorate at any cost, which would otherwise lead to adverse impacts on their health.
It was our moral duty to take care of people who incessantly lent their services in constructing homes for us. So here came a situation wherein we had the responsibility of reconstructing their lives, in a way. As of today, close to 8 vaccination drives have been conduction exclusively for the construction workers and families.
There’s a quote that I live by, “Life is not what you have, Life is what you give,” simply because it works both ways. The construction workers mean everything to us in the business we are in. We as a foundation would go to any extent to provide our family with everything they’re entitled to and rightfully deserve for their immense contribution.
What bothers us though, is the fact that the people who are reason behind structuring our homes are compelled to live fairly unstructured lives. One of our major aspirations is to eradicate it, by taking steps like above.
What more can be done for the current situation of the construction workers to better out? What are the rights that need to be looked into? What are the benefits that need to be made available to them with immediate effect? What are the policies that need to be worked upon for the same? What kind of programmes can be designed and implemented for the welfare of these people?
The efforts now need to be collaborative, for upliftment of the lives that genuinely deserve it. People who work day and night building homes, deserve so much.
Celebrating the labour merely for a day wouldn’t solve the purpose, constant efforts and initiatives need to be taken up in order to enhance their quality of living and being.
We all together need to give this a thought.
Dr. Payal Kanodia, Trustee, M3M Foundation.
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