COIMBATORE:Construction of the two-tier flyovers at Nanjappa Road and 100-feet Road in the city is progressing fast, with much of the work having been completed since it began last year.
Once the 162-crore project is completed, traffic in the area is expected to be much smoother. However, as the works are on, it is a difficult time for motorists, as much of the road is taken up for the work. But this is nothing when compared with the woes of the workers, both due to poor working conditions and absence of safety precautions. Though both government officials and contractors appear conscious of the quality of work, nobody seems to bother about how the workers fare. Besides lack of safety, they have no fixed working hours and are forced to work more than 10 hours a day.
“Day or night, we must report for work when called. As work goes faster at night, we work more at night. But that doesn’t mean daytime rest. Sometimes we work both day and night,” said a migrant worker from another state, who did not want to be named.
Many workers have developed health complications such as allergies and breathing problems as they are not provided gloves or masks. Some have left for home or shifted to other sites or jobs, because of illness or injuries.
For instance, while fitting or welding TMT bars at the edges of the flyovers, which are at a height, the workers stand on some supports and hold on to the bars at the flyover’s edges. As protection from the heat, they cover the bars with pieces of gunny bags or cover their palms with clothes. But this reduces the strength of their grip. There is no protection for a worker who many fall from this precarious perch.
“We have come a long way from our homes in search of work. We know there are risks in such things, but we have no choice,” said a worker who has been here for more than one year.
Workers Very Often Denied Legal Rights
According to data on the National Crime Records Bureau’s website, 3.4 per cent of accidental deaths in India are caused by falling off buildings and 0.3 per cent due to heat and sunstroke. With no protection for them, workers at the flyover sites risk both.
The family of a worker who dies in an accident at the worksite is entitled to a Rs 5 lakh compensation from the employer. But, most are not aware of this provision.
“Most of the workers are from other states. Agents who brought them threaten them against joining a trade union. Those who make contact with a union, if found out, will not be employed,” said Selvaraj, district joint secretary of the CITU construction labourers wing.
Wages given to migrant workers are lower than that given to workers from Tamil Nadu. Local masons get a daily wage of around Rs 700 and their helpers Rs 400, but rates are only Rs 400 and Rs 200 respectively for migrants.
The places they are given to stay are crowded and in poor condition. Six to ten of them stay in a 10x10-ft room. However, sometimes the employers give them PDS rice or wheat flour. “The quality of the rice, wheat etc, may not be too good. But we use it to save money,” said one worker.
Trade unions have been demanding for a long time that dormitories be built for migrant workers, so that they have proper shelters. “The builders and contractors fear that this will help their men meet workers from other sites and may move away. So they do not favour it,” said Selvaraj.