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Ahmedabad construction workers show signs of unrest, unite to demand higher wages, social protection

By Our Representative
In what seemed to be their first-ever show of strength, representatives of Ahmedabad’s construction workers, over 1,000 of them, came together to demand a sharp rise in their wage from around Rs 200 to Rs 250, which they get now, to Rs 500. Organized by the Majur Adhikar Manch, which claims to represent them, the demands included provision of basic amenities, including livable shelter for eight to nine months of the year they work in Ahmedabad, proper sanitation and drinking water facilities, apart from better working conditions, health facilities, school and anganwadi (creche) for their children near their workplace.
“Most of the workers come from faraway places such as Gujarat’s eastern tribal belt, and parts of Saurashtra, apart from neighbouring states, especially Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Driven by lack of employment opportunities at their place of living, they brought to Ahmedabad with the promise of a viable job opportunity. Even then, in Ahmedabad they get employment for just about 15 to 20 days, not beyond. All this makes their situation particularly vulnerable”, said a representation they made to the Manch before Ahmedabad district collector. The meeting, called by the Manch, was held near Subhash Bridge in the city.
The representation regretted, the construction workers are not covered under any law, including the factories Act, the contract workers’ Act, the inter-state migrant workers’ Act or the minimum wages Act. “These laws are rarely enforced. The workers do not form part of the workforce of the builders on whose sites they work. They are all contract workers, and small time contractors hold complete control over them. No labour laws are applied to protect them. They are not entitled to any leave if they wish to go to their home in case an emergency befalls. In fact, they virtually work as bonded labourers – often they do not get their wages till the contractor does not recover his part of the commission”, the representation said.
Referring to a Government of India directive under the construction workers’ Act, 1996, under which a welfare board for construction workers was established by the Gujarat government in 2005, the representation said, “Till 2008, not one construction worker was provided with any social protection by making him member of the board, as required by the law. On August 21, 2008, the Gujarat government came up with a resolution which said that those workers who have worked for 90 days at a stretch and provide certificate can be members of the board to avail of social protection”, the representation said. However, as most construction workers could not bring any such certificate, not more than 2000 of them could be its members. “This working of the board suggests that the government, the builders and the contractors work in unison to exploit the construction workers”, the representation alleged.
Apart from demanding higher wages for the construction workers, the list of demands include a provision of Rs 1,000 per day as per day wage to masons, registration of all construction workers in properly maintained attendance registers, providing workers with attendance cards, providing them with salary slips along with salary, which should clearly state their relationship with the owner. “They should all be made members of the welfare board so that they are covered under the insurance schemes provided by it”, the demand said, adding, “A large number of construction workers become victim of accidents. They do not get any compensation. Provision should be made for that, too.”
Among those who addressed the meet included Nitin Gurjar, Narendra Saankhaliya and Amrish Patel of the Gujarat Federation of Trade Unions, and Ambalal Chouhan, president Eent Bhatta (brik kiln) Majur Union Gujarat. During their speeches, they denounced the builders and the government for failing to address the abominable work conditions and low wages, and lack of social security, as well as absence of health, childcare and educational facilities in spite of the right to education Act.
Secretary of the Majur Adhikar Manch Ashok Samrat told the workers that the deputy labour commissioner, Ahmedabad, has invited the union for tripartite talks with the builder's association, as it has threatened to go on an indefinite strike if the demands are not heeded. A labourers' committee with union representatives and labourers from different parts of the city was formed to coordinate the future action plan. The meeting ended following a decision to go on strike in the new year in case talks with the authorities concerned fails.

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