Odisha: Labourers bear heat brunt despite 4-hour work break

There is no break for construction workers who are required to do intense physical labour. Despite the heat alert, they have to work as loss of labour hours would mean a cut in daily wage.
A worker unloads stone chips for road work at Palasuni on Friday
A worker unloads stone chips for road work at Palasuni on Friday Photo| Express

BHUBANESWAR: Although the work hours of labourers engaged in outdoor occupations has been restricted by the special relief commissioner (SRC), the directive seems to be flouted with impunity in the capital city.

The SRC on April 15, had directed all collectors to ensure labourers or workmen are not engaged during peak hours from 11 am to 3 pm due to the existing heatwave conditions in the state. However, in the absence of any monitoring of implementation of the directive, labourers continue to be deployed for work under direct sun throughout the day.

For the last four days, labourers have been renovating a stretch on the Palasuni-Rasulgarh road without a break while on the Cuttack-Bhubaneswar highway, workers are cleaning sand that has accumulated on the road even during peak hours. “Our contractor has asked us to complete the sand cleaning work within a specific timeline. Since the work cannot be done during night, we are forced to complete it before dusk,” said Prahallad, a worker engaged on NH-16.

He and five of his team members are not aware of the 11 am to 3 pm restriction. Neither has the contractor informed them about it. Elsewhere in the city, even as temperature soars to over 40 degree C by noon, there is no break for construction workers who are required to do intense physical labour. Despite the heat alert, they have to work as loss of labour hours would mean a cut in daily wage.

“The heat is unbearable but if we stop working, our wage for seven hours will be cut by half. We take small breaks in between and drink water to prevent dehydration,” said Sumitra Behera, who lifts stone chips on her head for construction of a building at Gajapati Nagar. The only protection that workers like Prahallad and Sumita have against the sun are plastic helmets and ragged scarves on their heads.

Since IMD has warned of heatwaves becoming intolerable for outdoor activities, the SRC had in its order strictly prohibited work by the labourers during the peak hours and stated any deviation would mean action against the employer as per relevant sections of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.

“The government has only passed a directive in wake of the heatwave. Its implementation is not checked by anyone in the Labour department. Which is why, private people, builders and even government agencies continue to force their labourers to work during intense heat hours except for a lunch break. No one has been fined for flouting the directive yet,” said trade union leader Mahendra Parida. Labour commissioner Santhanagopalan R could not be reached for his comments.

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