CHENNAI: Saturday’s building collapse has highlighted a common peril that migrant construction workers are subjected to for years since the construction boom in the State started drawing workers from other places.
It has become a practice for construction companies to provide accommodation for the workers at the construction site itself as this could save huge amount of money that, otherwise, would be spent on providing accommodation.
But when disasters strike, the practice could result in a heavy death toll, just like in case of the Trust Heights. Activists point out that several of the workers trapped under the debris were actually residing in the basement of the building.
“It is a cause for serious concern that workers, including their children, were being made to stay in the site itself. When such accidents occur, it puts the lives of the workers at great risk,” said R Geetha, advisor, Unorganised Workers Federation.
“It’s not just about safety. Making the workers stay at the site leads to exploitation as they are made to work for longer hours. In addition, the sites are generally polluted. Not just the workers, even their children are adversely affected due to this. Even their education has been a big question mark,” said Geetha.
“Generally, the workers stay in a site and move out only when the work is complete. All three of my cousins were staying here. Even I am staying at a building site at Thoraipakkam with my family,” said S Mahesh, a native of Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh, who was waiting to hear about his cousins, believed to be trapped under the debris.
“The makeshift huts that are given at the construction site are shoddy. As such, once the building construction progresses, the workers tend to go and start living in the basement of the new structures,” said M Paneerselvam, general secretary, All India Kattumana Thozhilalar Mathiya Sangam.
Though the activists have been demanding for a legislation to ban the accommodation of the construction workers in the site, such law is yet to become a reality.
The Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, under which the builder is responsible for providing a decent accommodation for the migrant labourers, stopped short of giving guidelines on how the accommodations must be. This loophole is being exploited by the construction companies and the contractors, said activists.