Fettered Lives: Contract Labour Jawahar Lal Nehru University

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On 15 November 2006, fifteen construction workers employed at the School for Physical Sciences (SPS) site in the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) were dismissedby the contractor when they protested a Rs. 5 cut in their daily wages.The post-cut Rs. 65 placed these workers, already living on hand-to-mouth existence, in a perilous position.

The dismissed workers approached some JNU students to intervene in thematter.The issue became a campaign for minimum wages and was successful in highlighting the importance of labour law on campus.On its part however the JNU administration completely stone-walled the vitalquestions of the responsibility of the university administration in respecting labourlaw. It became clear that the existence of forced and bonded labour was in fact being condoned, if not actively encouraged by the JNU administration.

As the students’ intervention grew, it became clear that the issue was not one limited to construction workers alone, but also affected other contract workers. Theinquiry by the students highlighted the primitive nature of expropriation of labour,in what is believed to be amongst the enlightened institutions of the country. This report seeks to summarise the various illegalities related to contract workers in JNU.It evidences how protective legislation meant to protect the unorganized sectorworker, be it the Contract Labour Act, the Minimum Wages (MW) Act, Equal Remuneration Act, Building and Construction Workers Act were followed in breach.

Along with PUDR’s own research, the present report includes informationfrom surveys conducted by the JNU students union (JNUSU) as also by student
groups on various work sites within the JNU campus to examine the wage rates and living conditions of the workers. This is a departure for PUDR which goes by its ownfact-finding while preparing reports. An exception was made this time because thestudents had already done a fine job of collecting primary data, which became apparent from reading the questionnaire modelled on an National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREG) survey prepared by Jean Dreze and his group, as well as documents and interviews made available to us. Without this data and other notes collected by them, this report would not have been possible.

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