'Dubious Contractors Taking Migrant Labourers for a Ride'

Construction workers from various unions in the State came together on Workers’ Memorial Day and held a candlelight vigil to pay their respects to workers who had lost their lives due to accidents and occupational diseases.

Published: 30th April 2014 07:40 AM  |   Last Updated: 30th April 2014 07:48 AM   |  A+A-

Construction workers from various unions in the State came together on Workers’ Memorial Day and held a candlelight vigil to pay their respects to workers who had lost their lives due to accidents and occupational diseases.

Addressing a press conference before the vigil, leaders of unions in the State, part of the Tamil Nadu Construction and Unorganised Workers Federation (TCWF), which is affiliated to Building and Woodworkers International, highlighted the problems of migrant construction workers.

M Subbu, general secretary of TCWF, pointed out that lakhs of workers were employed as construction labourers in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world. “Workers, young and old, are employed by dubious contractors and employment agencies with the promise of good salaries and a better life, only to end up living and working  in conditions of bondage and exploitation. On Memorial Day we wish to bring to light the problems of these workers,” he said.

Workers, particularly in the Middle East, are employed through the kafala system, which is in effect a system of bondage, he warned. “As per this system, every migrant worker is required to have a sponsor, who is usually the foreign employer or contractor who is responsible for the worker’s legal status including his/her passport and visa.”

TCWF president A  Ram rued that although the kafala system had been criticised by many organisations as inhuman, the practice still continued. “There is no regulation of employment of migrants  who travel to other countries and, in most cases, they are not paid fair wages or provided with even a basic standard of living. In many cases workers’ wages and passports are withheld,” he said.

The speakers highlighted the inhuman working and living conditions prevailing even in the case of workers building infrastructure for international sporting events such as the FIFA World Cup Soccer game to be held in Qatar in 2022. “An estimated 1.8 million migrant workers are being employed by FIFA for construction of infrastructure leading up to the games. While there is much anticipation and fanfare surrounding these events, the plight of the workers goes unnoticed,” they said.

“Accidents and deaths of workers go unreported in many cases. Workers’ families have no knowledge of what happens and are left in the lurch. It is important the labour department of the worker’s country and his family be informed immediately of any accident, death or health related issue,” M Pannerselvam, vice-president of TCWF, pointed out.

TCWF secretary Vazhapadi Ramakarnan suggested that with a view to regulating working conditions of migrant construction workers, host countries must sign a memorandum of understanding with the country of the workers’ origin, clearly stipulating terms of employment, minimum wages, working conditions, redress mechanisms etc. A workers’ desks should be set up at airports to assist foreign workers.

In the past two years, accidents and deaths have been reported in the media in Chennai as well, the TCWF said. The Inter State Migrant Workers Act 1982, which was enacted to protect workers and regulate working conditions of migrant workers, was not being enforced. North Indian workers employed in large infrastructure projects like metro rail and other real estate projects were working in unsafe conditions, it said.


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