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29 Apr 2009

In the Name of National Pride : Blatant Violation of Workers Rights at the Commonwealth Games construction site

The forthcoming 18th Commonwealth Games are being presented as a matter of great national pride by both the central and Delhi govt. The Govt. of India has agreed to give the Delhi govt. a sum of about Rs. 5200 crores for carrying out construction work and providing basic facilities towards this end. Construction and building work geared to the Games is going on at several places across Delhi. The primary concern of the govt. is that this work should be finished on time. In this frenzy to meet the deadlines, little attention is paid to the condition of the workers who are labouring to build these projects.

At one of these construction sites, the Commonwealth Games Village, being built on the Yamuna river bed, thousands of workers are not being paid the minimum wages due to them and have been working in extremely unsafe and inhuman conditions. Most workers here are migrants from the poorest regions of India. This project has already been marred by delays and environmental controversies.

The People’s Union for Democratic Rights, uncovered these shocking facts during its investigation into the working conditions at this site. The construction here has been contracted by the DDA to Emaar-MGF, which further sub-contracted the construction to some companies including Ahluwalia Contracts India Limited. This company in turn employs contractors (thekedars) with workers under them.

Both these companies refused to talk to us regarding the workers.

Despite several efforts, PUDR could not gain access to the construction site for more than a year and could not meet anyone from the DDA or the construction companies. However, after the death of a worker and workers’ agitation there in December 2008, PUDR was able to briefly access the main site, and later visit labour camps, and speak to several workers and union officials. The team had earlier met the officials of the Labour Department. The disturbing violations of labour laws that emerged at this site are as follows:

1) None of the workers employed by the contractors are paid the legally stipulated minimum wages or overtime. Unskilled workers are paid Rs. 85 to 100 per day as against the stipulated minimum wages of Rs. 142 for eight hours of work. They are paid Rs. 134 to 150 for 12 hours of work (8 hrs. plus 4 hrs of overtime) for which they should be paid Rs. 284. Skilled workers are being paid Rs.120 to 130 per day for 8 hrs of work even though the stipulated wages are Rs. 158 per day. Paying less then the minimum wages is a violation of the Minimum Wages Act 1948 and amounts to 'Begar' as per the 1982 Supreme Court Judgment on Asiad workers.

If we assume there have been on an average 4000 unskilled workers at the site all through, then the money made by the employers by not paying the workers according to the statutory provisions is around 51 lakhs and 152 lakhs per month and Rs.6 crores and Rs.18 crores per year for 8 hrs and 12 hrs of work respectively.

2) Representatives of the company or the principal employer that is DDA are not present at the time of payment of wages as is required under law.

3) None of the outstation workers are being paid travel or displacement allowance.

4) Mode of payment is also a source of exploitation. Many workers are not made any regular payments. Their money supposedly remains deposited with the contractor. The contractor gives them some money or sends it to their families when there is a need. Obviously if the contractor refuses to pay them the pending wages at the time of completion of work they will not have a proof of the same.

We came across cases where first payment is made after 45 days of work and that too of only 15 days. In subsequent months also the contractor similarly keeps 5 days wages with him. Most of the workers say that the balance payment is not made at the time of leaving the work.

Therefore, an unskilled worker is losing nearly 85 days' wages in a year that according to the present rates amounts to Rs. 10393 for 8 hrs of work and Rs. 23004 for 12 hrs of work. From 4000 workers the money appropriated in a year in this fashion would be around Rs. 4 crores and Rs. 9 crores for 8 and 12 hrs of work.

5) Workers are made to work all seven days a week on normal wages and are not given any leave. As per the law a weekly off-day is mandatory and if the workers are to be made to work on the rest days they are to be paid double the wage rate.

6) Workers are not given basic safety equipment - shoes, helmets, safety belts etc. Even when helmets and shoes are given, money is deducted from their wages, which is illegal.

7) Workers are not issued Identity cards, not given pay slips and they are not registered with the Welfare Board. They therefore have no proof of their being employed there. Ahluwalia Contracts claims that 3300 workers have been registered with the board, but none of the workers have the passbook which they should be getting on being registered.

8) Workers have to live in ‘camps’, in rooms made of tin sheets and asbestos, some of which have leaking roofs, do not have electricity, doors, ventilation, space to make food. One of these camps has dormitories, in which over 100 workers are made to sleep on bunk beds. It is no wonder that these dorms are called murga khana (chicken coop) by the workers. There are no toilets and an open tank (hauz) with partition for men and women serves as the bathroom.

9) Five percent of the workers are women. They are paid less then their male counterparts for same work. This is a violation of the Equal Remuneration Act 1976.

10) On 14th December 2008 a worker died when part of a poorly maintained crane fell on him. It is clear that the building machinery is not properly maintained. This is a violation of The Delhi Buildings and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Rules, 2002, which provides elaborate guidelines for safety norms and the maintenance of the machinery.
All these are violations also of The Buildings and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act 1996, The Delhi Buildings and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Rules, 2002, Minimum Wages Act, 1948, Inter-state Migrant Workmen Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service, Act 1979 and the Contract Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1970. Provisions under these which are being violated are listed in detail in Appendix 1 of the PUDR report.

Attitude of the administration - After the 14 December incident the workers stopped work for two days. They claimed that there have been several such accidents in past, which are covered up by the company. There is no way of proving or disproving these claims as no outsider, union, NGO or a civil rights organization can enter the Commonwealth Game Village construction site. Prior to the accident, PUDR approached various authorities – from the executive engineer at the site to the Chief Labour Commissioner, DDA etc for permission to enter the construction site, but it was denied to us. We tried to get information about the working conditions at the site through RTI, but got only superficial information. On the other hand the PUDR team was threatened and thrown out from the camps during one of our visits to the labour camps.

The Regional Labour Commissioner told us that their inspectors regularly visit the construction site to check for proper implementation of the labour laws and take proper action if any violations come to their notice. The implication is to say that such violations are exceptions rather than the norm. If such rampant violations of labour laws remain invisible to the Labour Department then this is indicative of the collusion of the government with the construction companies and the contractors. As principal employer DDA is also culpable of not ensuring implementation of labour laws.

Violation of fundamental rights - In 1982 PUDR had sent its fact finding report into the working conditions of the Asiad workers to the Chief Justice of Supreme Court, who treated this letter as a PIL and gave a historic judgment. According to this judgment payment of wages less than the minimum wages is equivalent to 'traffic in human beings and begar' as described in Article 23 of the constitution. Similarly violation of Equal Remuneration Act and Contract Labour (Abolition and Regulation) Act were explained as the violation of Article 14 (violation of right to equality) and that Article 21 (right to life and liberty) respectively. The SC held the Central Government, Delhi administration and DDA responsible for these violations because as principal employers they are responsible for not ensuring that these rights are not violated.

Going by this judgment it is clear that the workers are being made to do 'begar' at the Commonwealth Games Village Construction and their fundamental rights (Article 14 and 21) are being violated with impunity.

PUDR demands

  • That an independent judicial inquiry be conducted into the living and working conditions of construction workers across all the construction sites of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
  • All pending wages and arrears amounting from non payment of minimum wages, non payment of overtime including for work done on rest days, short wages, non payment of journey and displacement allowance be made by the principal employers, as per the legal requirements.
  • Prosecution of contractors and companies for their crimes and dereliction of duties as per the labour laws.
  • Judicial inquiry into the lack of action against violations of workers' rights by the government officials belonging to Labour Department, DDA and other principal employers and all those found complicit be brought to book as collaborators under the penal provisions of the relevant laws as well as the IPC.
  • Appropriate safety measures as laid down in the laws to be provided at all construction sites.
  • Appropriate residential, health and sanitation facilities as laid down in the laws to be provided to all workers.
  • Registration of all workers in the Welfare Board to be done and a pass book, identity card and the Jan Shree insurance policy number be issued to every worker immediately.
  • Workers' right to form unions and the right of trade unions to unionise these workers, visit the work and living sites, must be upheld.
  • All the Commonwealth construction sites should be made open for inspection at regular intervals by the judicial officer, and also by autonomous civil society organisations and trade unions.

Moushumi Basu

Secretary PUDR

[email protected]