The Stories Of Change

The Many Plights of Informal Workers

From lack of work opportunities and non payment to harassment at work, the informal sector has many challenges to face every day. Here is a detailed report about their lives.

Shivanand, a 40-year-old labourer is a skilled man. Dressed in blue jeans pant and a jacket, Shivanand excels in cement plastering. He says that when it comes to the construction sector, labourers with cement plastering, painting, carpentry, and similar mainstream job skills are in demand (in terms of wages). 

Mudalapalya Labour Joint.

Three years ago, he used to earn less than Rs. 500. With regular training and improved skills, he earns about Rs 800 per day. There are times when he gets paid Rs 1,000 a day. “This is because I have grown up as a professional in the past 2-3 years and I am able to earn the trust of the supervisors and contractors,” Shivanand said.

Although his income per day has increased but GST and demonetization have brought down job opportunities drastically for him.

“We were getting regular work but after the note ban was announced the job calls diminished in terms of number. Post note ban, jobs demanded high level of skills yet fetched same or lesser wages as that of an unskilled labour,” said Shivanand.

About 1,000 labourers like Shivanand gather every morning at labour joints like Kurubarahalli, Mudalapalya, and Kamakshipalya in Bengaluru. Hailing from the outskirts of the city, majority of these labourers are migrants from various parts of the state looking for jobs in informal sectors like construction, laying of OFC cables, waterline diggers, brick factory workers, tiles factory workers, Pothole filling or road repair workers, carpenters, painters, maids, plumbers, brick lifting workers, house shifting workers (Packing and moving), masons and so on. Out of these, construction workers, road repair workers, and painters are the ones which get hired often.

Manjunath, a young labourer in the Kurubarahalli labour joint, who couldn’t name the Digital India Initiative, explained that the money cannot be transacted in cash as earlier. 

Manjunath, a young labourer.

This has also led to construction site owners and contractors to tread cautiously. This has resulted in a decline in number of new projects. Many factory owners have also resorted to drastic cost cutting measures and has caused a job decline for the informal measures.  

Skilled or experienced labourers get at least Rs.150 more than the unskilled ones as wages. 

“Before demonetisation, usually all labourers would get a job. But now it is tough to find a job even if they wait till 2 P.M. This is the true nightmare for most of the labourers and is a serious threat to their livelihood.” said Manjunath.

The direct impact of the demonetisation is that there is a huge slump in jobs and this is forcing many of the labourers (especially unskilled) go home empty handed.

The Fate of Women Labourers

Nagamma (left) and Shivagangamma (right) at Kurubarahalli Joint.

Women labourers have additional wars to fight. Many of them are sole bread winners of their families with an alcoholic and abusive husband at home.

Nagamma is in her early 30s but have faced many challenges in her life. She lives in Kamalanagara in a small 1 bedroom house. “My husband will be having a sound sleep after heavy consumption of alcohol,” she shared. Nagamma works as a domestic maid in five houses and wars about Rs 5,000 per month. Her husband, who is jobless, spends Rs 200 every day on alcohol. 

Nagamma starts her day at 5 am and finishes her work in the five households by 8 am. She then comes to the labour joints to look for more work. She would mostly get involved as a helper in activities like brick lifting, filling up of potholes and other works. She earns Rs. 300 to 400 per day. At times her husband accompanies her to the labour joint and earns Rs 699 to Rs 700 per day. 

Kurubarahalli Labour Joint.

Another women labourer Shivagangamma has a similar story to share. Mostly her husband is not picked up at the labour joints by the contractors and she understands why. 

“Nobody wants to work with drunkards,” she said. Most of the times such labourers end up having an injury or even meet with death.

Often, women labourers are not allowed to perform mainstream jobs like masonry, cement plastering, carpentry, painting, plumbing etc. They are hired mainly as helpers where they perform activities such as getting different types of tools to the male counterparts, mixing of concrete, moving of bricks etc. As a result, there is always a huge discrepancy in the pay.

It is not uncommon for the women labourers to fall victims for various types of discomforts such as harassment, after getting hired. Such things happen when the women are hired as independent labourers i.e. in the absence of their spouses or partners. 

A lady labourer, on the condition of anonymity, voiced her anguish in this regard. With a lump in her throat, she shared that she was one of the victims of physical abuse. She also said she had no other option but to bear the brunt, because of impending insecurity over her (family’s) livelihood.

Youth, Migration and Struggles to find jobs

Young Labourers At Kamakshipalya.

There are large number of migrants in these sectors who have migrated from various northern districts of the state such as Kalaburugi, Yadagiri, Koppala, and Raichur. They are all affected by severe and regular droughts which could, most of the times, lead them to famine. Under such a situation either no or very less number of bread winners exist for the family. 

Young ones of the family are burdened with the responsibility of looking after their brothers and sisters. Circumstances force them to discontinue their education and shoulder the responsibility of taking care of their family members.

The youth is willing to share their family’s responsibilities, but when they find it difficult to cope with the non availability of the jobs, they end up getting stressed, psychologically.

When the labourers are not hired some day, they start moving around the area and try to make their livelihood by requesting the owners of small scale business establishments like hotels for a job. They are usually hired for cleaning and sweeping. After winning the confidence of the owner, they are promoted and are given a wage hike. Some of them end up getting hired for several months.

Labourers wait to get picked up for work.

Kumar Dasappa (nicknamed Meese), a 50-year-old labourer from Kamakshipalya, cladded with a pair of old chappals, dull clothes and a bright yellow rain jacket on top of it, is an experienced yet a semi-skilled Painter from Basaveshwara Nagar. He keeps wandering within a radius of three kms in his area to look for work. He is one of those few men who manage to find work on a regular basis. 

He claims that he was engaged for more than 300 days in the last one year. He earns anywhere between Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000 per month. His chances of getting job offers increases two folds during the festive season.

Kumar S/o Dasappa (nicknamed Meese), aged about 50 years, cladded with a pair of old chappals, dull clothes and a bright yellow rain jacket on top of it, is an experienced yet a semi skilled Painter from Basaveshwara Nagar, who keeps wandering within a radius of 3 km in his area, was sure to find a job every day. He used to wait at nearby labour joints durins his jobhunt in the earlier days of his youth. He was excited to share that he hardly finds days with no job offers. According to him, he was engaged for more than 300 days in the last one year. He lives in Kamakshipalya area. He earns anywhere between 10k to 20k per month. His chances of getting job offers increases 2 folds during the festive season. He earns Rs. 600 to 800 per day.

The impact of joblessness

Shivanand (right) at Kurubarahalli Joint

A desperate need to look for jobs has resulted in these labourers leaving their families behind. This has left many with deep psychological stress and pushed them into depression. Henceforth, they get addicted to habits like alcohol consumption, smoking, chewing of tobacco etc.

Appanna, General Secretary, All India Central Council Trade Union (AICCTU), Karnataka threw detailed light on the same.

According to Appanna, more than 60 percent labourers are living in sheds constructed using semi thick plastic. Their priority is usually getting food, clothing, and shelter. After this, other things such as educating their children, and health comes into picture. 

There are also very rare instances of a labourer’s son or daughter getting into higher position in the society by way of passing exams with higher grades. He remorsefully admits to the fact that most women fall victims for the atrocities in the workplace. These atrocities are always of the kind of sexual abuse which go unreported.

Most of the times, these dailywage workers are not paid the promised wages by the supervisor. The site supervisors promise some amount at the time of hiring and pay at least Rs. 200 less at the end of the day. Those who demand the wages as per the verbal agreement would be ignored, next time onwards, worsening their chances of getting hired by any other supervisor.

A decline in livelihood has driven some of the youths to indulge in criminal activities such as theft, burglary, robbery and even murder, just to make their livelihood.

Kumar Dasappa

Ananthkumar, Head constable at the Kaggalipura police station, Bengaluru, shared a case of four men who were caught for a case of murder. He explained that only one person among those four was a regular labourer and the others were his friends. They dreamt of making quick bucks and resorted to this activity of stealing. Ananthkumar mentioned that he comes across many such cases every now and then. This is an example of extreme crime which ended up in a murder, he added. They are caught with the legal evidence and are now cooling their heels behind the bars.

As per the pre-election leaked reports in the media, NSSO (National Sample
survey Office) said that the current (2017-2018) unemployment rate in the country stood at 45-year high at 6.1 percent.

Though the NITI (National Institution for Transforming India) Aayog says the report on unemployment by NSSO is not verified, it is widely believed that the NSSO reports were a ground reality. However, the labour ministry’s data released May 30th has confirmed the leaked reports’ legitimacy.

Photos: Chethan Ranganath

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Chethan Ranganath

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