A vivid exploration of the correlation between women migrants and the construction industry
4 minutes read
Urbanization has increased migration of labour across the world. This has accelerated the movement of labour from rural to urban centres in many parts of the country. Consequently, the construction sector has become the major source of livelihood for the vast majority of migrant workers who engage in both skilled and unskilled labour. While we have various studies talking about the increase in the labour movement and opportunities, it is important to understand the issues with inclusivity associated with this expansion.
The construction sector in the major cities of the country flourishes on the cheap labour provided mostly by these migrant workers. There is no permanency and legal safety assured to these workers as they belong to the unorganised sector. Their work is characterised by long hours at the site, low payment and lack of physical and legal securities. The living conditions of these workers are deplorable. Though the sector is highly unequal in general, it has a disproportionate effect on women migrant workers. Very few studies have explored this intersectionality aspect in the construction sector. It is thus important to understand the nature of their work and quality of life of the migrant women in the sector.
Discrimination starts from the recruitment process itself. Most of the women migrate with their families. Migrant women in Delhi and Ahmedabad have said that since they were recruited along with their husbands the payment follows a ‘Jodi system’ and hence their share of the payment also goes to the husband at the end of the working day. Most of the women are engaged in menial work and are being paid less than their male counterparts. Studies have shown that wage differentials between men and women come to about Rs. 40 – 70. Their work is characterized by long working hours- typically 14 to 16 hours a day. Along with spending long hours by engaging in physically exerting work at the site, these women have the additional burden of performing household chores as well which consequently deteriorates their health. A woman who works at a construction site in Ahmedabad shared her daily struggles as:
“I have to wake very early to collect water from the common pipe which is far from where I stay. My husband does not help in household chores. I have to do everything on my own from collecting water, cooking, washing clothes and utensils. As soon as I get back from work, I have to cook and start cleaning again. I end up sleeping late and waking up early”
The elder siblings have to take up the responsibilities of household chores and take care of their younger siblings. Thus these kids cannot attend schools nor do they receive any form of education. In addition to the lower pay, women have to face a lot of other unjust rules and difficult situations at work. Women lack any maternity benefits, which means that they are not entitled to take any maternity leaves and do not even get breastfeeding breaks. There are no proper facilities for women to safely keep their babies as child care facilities like creches are absent at almost all the construction sites. Many women cannot feed their babies or check on them at regular intervals. Many such women said that they end up skipping their lunch and end up feeding their babies instead. As a result, both the mothers’ and child’s health are at risk. Malnutrition and anaemia are common among migrant women and girls who work in the construction site. This is intensified due to the lack of proper sanitation facilities and safe drinking water facilities which makes women susceptible to various communicable diseases. There are no separate toilets for women at the construction site. Women who stay at the worksite, have to wake up early in the morning to use the bathrooms and toilets before the male workers occupy them. Many such washrooms and toilets do not have doors. The women who stay outside/open spaces have to resort to open defecation or pay and use public toilets. The issues of privacy and safety with respect to sanitation facilities is a serious worry for both the women who stay in the sites and for those who stay outside. Migrant women are exposed to the risk of sexual harassment in every form in the worksites from co-workers, contractors and others. Many women find it difficult to stay at home even when they are sick as there is a lack of security and safety. Many girls from these families are at the risk of sexual harassment when their parents are at work.
There is constant neglect by the local authorities and state administration towards the condition of migrant families. Given that they are not from the city they work in, and they stay in open spaces, the state-specific legal securities schemes and policies do not cover them. Additionally, due to the absence of any documents regarding their stay or work, they are always facing the risk of eviction and displacements. There are a number of labour laws that exist to protect the migrant labourers in the construction sector. But these laws hardly get implemented. ‘Building and Other Construction Workers’ (BoCW) Act’ of 1996 is one of the laws that exist. This law stipulates that the contractors and employers should ensure the safety and well being of the workers in the construction sector including the migrant workers. This remains unimplemented in many of the major cities in India. Moreover, migrant workers are unaware of existing laws and rights. They do not have any documents or an organised group to claim their rights. In order to improve the lives of the construction workers, it is important to organise them and make them aware of their rights. These groups should come together with the civil society to advocate for their rights and work towards implementing and improving the existing laws. There should be improvements in the law to accommodate the needs and welfare of female migrant workers.
- CLRA: Analysis of Construction Labour Market of Ahmedabad City, March 2009
- Asian and Pacific Migration Journal: Opportunities and Vulnerabilities of Female Migrants in Construction Work in India, December 2007