PRESS RELEASE: Trade unions demand safe working conditions, minimum wages, better living conditions and enforcement of legal provisions for inter-state migrant workers in Tamil Nadu

16th August 2012, Chennai: Trade Union leaders from Centre of Indian Trade Unions, All India Trade Union Congress, Unorganised Workers Federation and Nirman Mazdoor Panchayat today called for urgent attention to unsafe working conditions in construction sites in and around Chennai city, including government projects sites, where large number of inter-state migrant workers from Bihar, Jharkhand, Bengal, Assam, Orissa are employed. ‘In the last 15 days, media has reported deaths of about 13 migrant workers from two construction sites, with several more injured. There are many more that goes unreported, unrecorded and uncompensated’ they said. While Tamil Nadu reportedly has over 10 lakhs migrant workers from the north, central and eastern India, on papers there are hardly any records of these workers.

The conditions of employment of migrant labourers need urgent attention since they are not paid even minimum wages, even in government sites, the Unions asserted. ‘There have been innumerable accidents in construction sites in Greater Chennai and Coimbatore and there seems to be no safety monitoring mechanism or inspections by labour department at these sites’, as per the union leaders. The living conditions are equally deplorable, with workers crammed in small tin sheds, no basic facilities like clean drinking water, toilets or bathing area, child care, even in government project sites.

As per a fact-finding visit by members of Unorgansied Workers Federation (UWF) “The fatalities at Jeppiar Institute of Technology in Sungavarchathiram, Kancheepuram and at CMRL site near Pachaiappa’s Chennai were completely unwarranted and would not have occurred if the safety norms were followed.” There are detailed provisions for safety at construction sites under The Building and Other Construction Workers Act 1996 and also under the Tamil Nadu State Rules, which were notified in 2006. Two years ago, the Inspectors were appointed but there seems to be no safety monitoring at the work sites. Even the Advisory committee has not yet been constituted by the State Government.

As per UWF, the causes of the two major accidents are the following:
“In the case of construction of basketball court in Jeppiar Institute of Technology at Kunnam near Sunguvarchathiram, Kancheepuram District, there were structural defects and there was no plan sanction by the Panchayat and probably substandard materials were used. While 9 migrant workers had died on the spot and 6 were taken to Kancheepuram HQ Hospital, 1 worker died on the way to the hospital and later 2 workers died in the hospital and 3 more were taken away to some other hospital, probably Govt Hospital. The families of the deceased were paid Rs 2 lakhs each and not as per provisions of Workmen’s Compensation Act. Later cases have been registered against the employer and managers and the accused have been jailed.”

“In Metro Rail construction near Pachaiappa’s College, the accident was due to the fall of the crane on workers caused by the use of imperfect lifting device. One worker had died and 4 were under treatment in Govt. Hospital and one worker shifted to Apollo Hospital. The technical staff of L&T in-charge of the equipment were arrested.”

In both the above cases, the compensation should have been computed as per the provisions of Workmen’s Compensation Act ( based on age and wages – at least minimum
wages, even if it is not paid to workers) and handed over only in the presence of Labour Commissioner. “Infact the Labour Commissioner has the power to ask the employer to deposit the amount and it can be sent to Labour Commissioner in the home state of the worker, where Dependents’ enquiry can be done and the compensation can reach the families of the deceased migrant workers within a short period of time”, according to UWF.

The unions emphasised on the need for a Migrant Labour Cell with the participation of Trade Unions which could address the issues of both in-migrants and out-migrants workers. They further demanded compulsory registration of construction workers including migrant workers in the Welfare Board, adding that “it is a moral duty of the state to do so since 1 % cess is collected from all big construction sites for the welfare of the workers, and in most of these sites migrant workers are employed”.

Even though the Supreme Court’s interim order (dated 18/01/2010 WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO(s). 318 OF 2006) which directs compulsory registration as part of tender conditions in Govt constructions (under the Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Cess Act, 1996), it has not been implemented. Since 2008, due to Tamil Nadu government’s GOs No 122, 123 and 124, verification by Village Administrative Officer has been instituted, making the task of registration of migrant labourers impossible. And, there is a composite office at District levels under LOs, negating the specific needs of major categories of workers. To make matters worse, there is a move to exclude the Trade Unions in registration, renewals and filing claims in certain districts, which will lead to further dissatisfaction of the workers.

The unions demanded that Central Acts on construction workers must be properly implemented and Labour Commissioner must call for a meeting with all Trade Unions to discuss and proceed towards protection of construction and other unorganised workers, especially migrant workers. They further demanded that the state government acts on the Policy on Migrant Child Labour which was formulated a few years ago.

For more information contact: Geetha Ramakrishnan: 9444050071; AS Soundarajan: 9841748076; K. Ravi: 9444440564; Madhumita Dutta: 9444390240

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