He is ubiquitous. He comes in different attires, depending on where you spot him. At Metrorail construction sites and multi-million dollar building project locations, he turns up in yellow helmets, worn out shoes and waist coats with reflectors. Where buildings come up, he is seen in clumsy clothes with his feet covered with cement and dust. He could be from anywhere, but he has left behind a family and toils all day or even during nights, living in shanties and leading a frugal existence. He has changed the city’s skyline but his lifestyle never changes. He helps the city get residential blocks and office premises but he does not get a roof of his own. So when he gets crushed under a crashing tower, ill-designed by a more educated person and executed by a much richer person, or when he goes under a block of concrete that was a wall when he went to bed the previous night, he dies unsung and his family gets nothing more than his mangled body.
He is the faceless construction worker. Millions of such workers undertake a job fraught with personal risks and occupational hazards with no job protection or personal safety. Hired and fired at will by wily contractors, they get no benefits under the slew of labour laws in the land. They have no insurance cover and their medical bills are not taken care of by the employers or any insurance company. Their employers feel no compulsion to pay any compensation to their families when they die in harness or to them when they are maimed at the work site.
Though in case of the two latest tragedies in Chennai, which came as eye-openers to the plight of construction workers, some compensation was announced for the victims by Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa, normally when a misfortune visits a construction worker in India, his family suffers alone, in silence. So it is time the Centre came up with a regulation to provide a comprehensive safety net for the faceless construction worker.