B’luru construction companies woo migrant workers with better facilities to meet demand

From housing and healthcare, construction companies also offer daycare for children among other facilities.
B’luru construction companies woo migrant workers with better facilities to meet demand
B’luru construction companies woo migrant workers with better facilities to meet demand
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In the past few years, Bengaluru’s real estate sector has seen a boom in construction activities, much of which is supported by the 15-20 lakh migrant workers who mostly come from northern states like Odisha, Jharkhand and Bihar.

“Most of the labourers - skilled and unskilled - who work at the construction sites are from states other than Karnataka. Builders work with contractors who then engage with middlemen to bring the required number of labourers to Bengaluru,” says Sujatha Nayak, a programme coordinator for Outreach, an NGO which runs programmes for children of migrant construction workers.

Despite the increase in workforce owing to migration, there is a dearth in labour supply.

Chidananda Kamath, Vice President, Projects of JMC Projects (India) Limited says, “We need about 13,000 workers for our projects in Bengaluru but we have only 8,000. We are thinking of mechanisations but it’s not possible in all areas, like for example plastering.”

JMC is construction company which undertakes projects for renowned developers like the Embassy Group, RMZ Corp and Salarpuria Sattva.

Speaking about the demand for labourers Kamath says, “If they don’t get good pay and good facilities, they will not come here because work is available in their native places also. There are infrastructure and real estate activities going on everywhere and they have many options.”

The facilities Kamath refers to are those mandated by The Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996. The law stipulates that construction workers in India, including those who are migrants to the concerned states, are entitled to certain benefits like temporary living accommodation, drinking water, overtime wages, creches and other facilities to sustain basic living standards and it applies to every establishment which had employed 10 or more workers at any time during the previous year.

But have such facilities moved from the echelons of legislation into reality?

In the context of Bengaluru, the answer may be ‘yes’. The credit for the same, though, could be attributed to the economic functionalities of demand and supply rather than a targeted implementation of the law.

The ‘thekedars’ or middlemen who bring labourers to work on construction sites are the ones who exercise discretion when it comes to choosing work sites. They send their labourers to work for those construction companies, which offer competitive wages, thereby ensuring a bigger cut for themselves.

“Thekedars keep moving their workers to places where the wages are better. Sometimes this creates problems for us but this is how it works. Thekedars are aware of all the projects running in the city, so they keep looking for better opportunities and better facilities,” points out Thukaram, an admin staff at JMC.

A migrant worker from Jharkhand, who now works on one of RMZ’s construction sites located in Amruthnagar says, “We prefer Bengaluru. The work is good, the pay is good…the company takes care of water and electricity supply also.”

The colony maintained by RMZ houses about 350-400 people and hosts amenities like RO plants for water purification, sewage treatment plants (STPs), diesel generator sets and recreational activities like carom boards and a volleyball court.

“We are able to save a little from what we earn here. We don’t have that many expenses. The company also provides firewood apart from housing and healthcare. And two out of the kids’ three meals are covered at the school [day-care centre],” explains a women migrant worker at JMC’s site located in Kempapura.

“We own a small farm in our village. When we go back there, we buy seeds and fertilisers with the money we saved,” she adds.

The discretion exercised by ‘thekedars’, it appears, is inadvertently ensuring a better livelihood for migrant workers in Bengaluru’s construction sector.

In order to provide the workers with facilities like day-care centres, health camps etc contractors engage with NGOs while the labour colonies where workers are housed are maintained by the contractors themselves.

The day-care centres are located within the labour colonies and, in addition to providing basic education to the kids, the centres also act as creches which look after the kids when parents are away.

“In the 90s when Outreach started these programmes for migrant children, there wasn’t much contribution from the contractors or the builders so, we had to raise our own funds,” Sujatha says, speaking of the years when the law was present but there was no compliance, adding, “And even after we had gotten the funds in place, there was some resistance from builders and they wouldn’t let us set up labour colonies fearing union-like demands from workers.”

“But nowadays, the builders know that they have to maintain some quality standards and even the workers are aware of the importance of education, so that’s why it’s working,” she says.

Another factor, which is ensuring the upkeep of living facilities for construction workers is the corporate social responsibility (CSR).

The Government of India notified Section 135 of the Companies Act, 2013 along with Companies (Corporate Social Responsibility Policy) Rules, 2014 which made it mandatory for companies with a net worth of Rs. 500 crore or more, turnover of Rs 1000 crore or more or net profit of Rs 5 crore of more to spend 2% of average of net profit for the last 3 years on CSR activities like eradicating hunger and poverty, promoting education, empowering women, reducing child mortality etc.

“RMZ has its own foundation which provides labourers with living facilities. And so does Brigade. It’s all a part of CSR activities,” says Kamath.

The economics which are at play owing to shortages in labour supply in Bengaluru’s construction sector along with the added benefits of mandatory CSR spending is going a long way in ensuring that migrant workers are provided with living wages and a sustainable livelihood.

All images by Rishika Pardikar

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