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30 Aug 2010

Violation of laws is a crime. This crime is being committed through widespread flouting of labour laws by the state agencies - that is the DDA, CPWD, MCD, NDMC, PWD, DMRC, University of Delhi, involved in the construction work related to Commonwealth Games as principal employers and the construction companies which have been given huge contracts of these projects. Equally culpable is the labour department for not devising a mechanism for checking the violations and not taking action against the perpetrators of these violations.

The violations include denial of minimum wages, overtime and weekly offs, irregular payment of wages, not giving proof of employment in the form of identity cards and wage slips to workers, not registering the workers with the welfare board, not maintaining muster rolls and other records as required under the law, not giving the safety equipments free of cost, not giving displacement or travel allowance to migrant workers, paying lesser wages to women workers, not providing adequate residential and living facilities in accordance with law. All these are violations as per Building and other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Condition of Services) Act (1996), Minimum Wages Act (1948), Interstate Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Condition of Services) Act (1979), and the Contract Workers (Prohibition and Regulation) Act (1970), Equal Remuneration Act.

In January 2010. PUDR filed a Public Interest Litigation in High Court of Delhi along with two other organizations -Common Cause and Nirmaan Mazdoor Panchayat Sangam. The Court appointed a four member Monitoring Committee (MC) comprising of the Secretary (Labour), Govt. of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD), Mr. R. D. Srivastav; Commissioner (Labour), NCT of Delhi, Mr. A. K. Singh; Former Indian Ambassador to the United Nations, Ms. Arundhati Ghose; and Special Rapporteur, National Human Rights Commission, Dr. Lakshmidhar Mishra to assess the ground realities and to take appropriate steps to redress the grievances of the construction workers in Delhi.

The committee conducted field visits to various sites, submitted its report on 17th March, in which it categorically stated that the allegations made by the petitioners are ‘well founded’ (p.2 of the committee report). The Committee also put forth strong recommendations including exemplary punishment for those violating labour laws.

PUDR in releasing its report titled, Games the State Plays, on the plight of construction workers in Commonwealth sites would like to reiterate the sorry state of affairs that continues to exist regarding implementation of workers rights. Despite the HC order of 7th April, none of the principal employers have as yet devised any mechanism to ensure that labour laws are implemented as per the recommendations of the Committee.

As a result:

1) Workers continue to be paid wages far less than the minimum stipulated by law. As per our investigations done, workers continued to be paid between Rs. 110 -130 per day instead of the stipulated minimum wages of Rs. 203. On some sites, they were paid a weekly kharcha of Rs. 300-400 with rest of the wages being kept back by the contractors. PUDR came across this at various sites including the University of Delhi, Shivaji Stadium, Road beautification project near Khanna stadium, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and the Commonwealth Games Village. Question of them being paid overtime as per the law did not arise.

2) The minimum wages in Delhi is Rs 203 for unskilled workers, Rs 225 for semi skilled and 248 for skilled workers. Presently thekedars are paying 110-130 to unskilled workers and 150-170 to semi skilled and skilled workers. According to the response filed in the court the total number of workers working in CWG projects is more than 40 thousand. Calculations made by PUDR show that contractors are saving approximately Rs 75-85 from each worker per day. If the total number of workers is 40,000 it means the contractors are saving :40,000 X Rs 75-85 = Rs 30,00,000-34,00,000 per day and Rs 30,00,000-34,00,000 X 30 days= Rs 9,00,00,000-10,20,00,000 (9-10 Crores) per month by not paying minimum wages.

3) Almost all the workers are also working 10 hours daily. But they are not getting any overtime for this. For two hours of extra work they should get at least Rs 100 according to their minimum wages. If the total number of workers is 40,000 it means the contractors are saving 40,000 X Rs 100= Rs 40,00,000 per day and Rs 40,00,000 X 30 days= Rs 12,00,00,000 (12 Crores per month).

4) Workers who works for 12 hours are getting overtime on general rate. They should get at least Rs 406 for 12 hours of work but they get 170-180 for 12 hours of work. It means contractors are saving at least Rs 200 per day from each worker by not paying their actual overtime. It is true that all the workers are not working overtime but if we take only 6000 workers who works overtime, which is very less number by seeing the workload, the contractors are saving 6000 X Rs 200= 12,00,000 per day and Rs 12,00,000 X 30= 3,60,00,000(at least 3 crores 60 lakhs per month) by not paying overtime.

5) Workers are also not getting weekly off and work all seven days in a week. According to the provision if they work on the day of rest they should be paid not less than the overtime rate, means double of minimum wages. So the contractors are saving at least Rs 250 per day by not paying overtime rate on the day of the rest. If the total number of workers is 40,000 it means contractors are saving 40,000 X Rs 250= Rs 1,00,00,000 per day. If we take 5 days of rest in a month, it means contractors are saving 1,00,00,000 X 5= 5,00,00,000(at least 5 Crores)in a month.

6) If we calculate all the amount the total savings of the contractors is 9-10 Crores + 12 Crores + 3 Crores 60 lakhs + 5 Crores = Rs 29 Crores 60 lakhs , which means that contractors are saving at least 30 Crores per month by not paying the minimum wages and overtime. In a year this would amount to 30 Crores X 12= Rs 360 Crores in a year.

7) The living condition remains as abysmal as they were earlier. The labour camp at Polo ground in the university has stagnant water in the ditches which have become breeding grounds for mosquitoes in the monsoon. A large number of workers and their family members including children have been reported to be suffering from high fever. At other places make shift shelters made of plastic sheets, with no sanitation facilities or accessibility of potable water, things have been pretty dismal.

8) Safety of workers is compromised routinely, more so in the desperation of meeting the deadlines. Workers can be seen working at heights without safety belts helmets etc. We have seen workers working without these minimum safety measures at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Khalsa College. A loader died at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium last week on the 26th of August, in an accident, and the death went unreported. The government has yet despite repeated request has not provided a complete list of the workers who have died or have suffered injuries and the compensation awarded to families in each case.

9) Farce is being enacted in the name of holding camps for registration of workers with the Welfare Board. The exercise has not gone beyond tokenism. Workers are not informed before hand for them to arrange the required papers, for a camp scheduled for only a few hours the officials from the labour department reach the site 1-2 hrs late and that too absolutely unprepared, no notary is present prepare affidavits for the workers. Labour department is misleading the HC by quoting inflated figures of the workers registered, by showing old expired registrations of workers, who are no longer available, as fresh registrations, and by keeping the Court in dark by hiding the fact that hardly any welfare benefits have reached the workers through the supposed registration drive.

To conclude, PUDR would like to put on record that in spite of a hard hitting report by the HC committee, order by the court to implement the recommendations made by the committee and enormous media coverage regarding all of this, nothing has changed for the workers and hardly any action has been taken against the contractors, officials of the construction companies or the principal employer government agencies for illegalities committed by them. The Chief Minister of Delhi and the Central Labour Minister have chosen not to comment even once on the repeated highlighting of the violations of labor laws, indicating their total apathy for workers, their right and hence to the Constitutional obligations.

Such callousness and disregard for the laws of the land and its institutions is disgraceful and nothing short of contempt of the process of law. In short the construction companies, the state agencies and the labour department continue to commit the crimes against workers with impunity, and that too in the name of National Pride.

Moushumi Basu and Asish Gupta