Opportunities for workers open up, but more hurdles ahead

“I never got any benefits from my contractors when I was working on my own but from the time I am working for LabourNet, I have my health insurance and was even paid when an accident happened a few months back. All my friends here are benefiting from LabourNet,” explains Suresh who is working all day at a construction site near the Tin Factory, KR Puram. He rests on a boulder to talk, wiping sweat off his forehead with his hands full of cement dust. Bengaluru-based LabourNet provides access to information about jobs and labour to construction workers and clients, respectively.

Suresh is a middle aged man who came to Bangalore from Bihar two years back and started working on construction sites. Recently, one of his friends told him about an organisation working for the benefit of construction workers and Suresh thought of checking out how it works for him. It is almost a year now and Suresh thinks he made the right choice. As Suresh speaks to me some of his friends nod from behind and some are skeptical if organisations like these will really help the larger population of unorganised workers in the country. jacks

The unorganised sector has more to it than just domestic helpers as there are a huge number of construction workers (pic: M S Gopal)

Shanthi, 28, living in Indiranagar, is a babysitter who has benefited from another Bangalore-headquartered firm called Babajobs. “I saw an advertisement and that is how I got to know of Babajobs. I spoke to them last August. They were very helpful. They do not take any commission. I take care of a baby at a house in Whitefield. I earn Rs 5000 and Rs 1000 for travel. I work from 8:30 to 5:30. I have been working here for about 8 months.”

We all have heard about naukri.com and monster.com, they provide jobs to everyone from engineers to sales executives but Babajobs is different. It is a job search portal providing jobs to house maids and the so-called unorganised sector in general.

“At Babajobs we provide this platform for the workers,” claims Sean Blagsvedt,  founder of Babajobs. Blagsvedt comes from a technical background. Before founding Babajobs he worked eight years for Microsoft and came to India in 2002 as one of the founders of Microsoft Research India (MSR). He explains that he studied the job markets in India and realised that most jobs are got through social networking.

“I have provided a network for employers and job seekers to get what they want”, he says. He allows the job seekers to put a profile of what kind of work they can do and how much do they expect, at the same time he also asks them to put a reference from their previous job to maintain credibility.

“The unorganised sector works on word of mouth and trust, therefore I have used this basis to make my company,” explains Blagsvedt. House maids, drivers and so on come to their office and register themselves. After which a profile is created with the help of technical staff and put on the website. Similar system is applicable for an employer too and a job search thus begins. Babajobs as of today has more than 70,000 people benefiting from their service.

The unorganised sector has more to it than just domestic helpers as there are a huge number of construction workers. While, helping workers find employers is key, the other question is whether they get a decent benefits package. LabourNet, for its part, describes itself as a facilitating body that responds to low skill levels and poor working conditions in the construction sector. It serves as a link between workers and users (contractors, end clients, construction firms, home owners, builders, etc.) to connect workers to jobs. Through this process, it provides training opportunities and basic social security coverage for workers.

<!– @page { margin: 2cm } P { margin-bottom: 0.21cm Initially LabourNet worked in a non-profit mode but recently it became a commercial enterprise.

“We take care of the wages, training the workers and provide them social security,” says Gayathri Vasudevan, one of the co-founders of LabourNet. She explains that a construction worker can join them by registering and submitting an amount of Rs.100 annually with LabourNet as registration fee.

She further explains, “We have started registration only to make sure there is a sense of responsibility from both the worker and us. We are not earning anything from this amount as this amount is used for the workers only in a way of providing security to them. But when they are asked to pay this amount they are more responsible. Also they then expect more from us and therefore are not coming here with a laid back attitude.”

The first thing LabourNet does after this is creating a bank account for the worker and then providing him health and accident insurance and then the worker goes through a short training programme. LabourNet charges the registration fee of Rs.100 annually even from the customers, that is the people who are picking up workers through Labournet. There are more than 6000 registrations done with LabourNet as of today.

Gayathri feels that LabourNet has a service approach to the construction workers unlike labour unions who are working for the rights of the labourers. The labour unions, she feels, are unable to reach the last mile worker.

“We are private players with an NGO hat, we are more concerned about each worker getting all the required benefits,” she adds.

A construction worker who finds a job on his own usually ends up getting around Rs.100 (men) and around Rs.65 (women) per day. At the same time most construction workers are employed only for a few weeks at one place (2-3 weeks) and then they have to start a new search for work. At the most they are employed 20 days in a month.

With LabourNet they get a fixed job and a range of wages depending on the skill level of the worker. Therefore, a worker can get between Rs.150- Rs.300 per day. However, there exist no common work standards or norms to set criteria that determine wages for different kinds of skills or trades. Source: LabourNet.

Sushila, a middle aged woman from Kolar was seen at the Mahila Milan organised by Labournet early this year. Mahila Milan was a camp organised by LabourNet for women construction workers coming from various parts of Karnataka. This camp was also a training and counseling session for all these women who wanted to work as construction workers in Bangalore. Sushila got to know about LabourNet through one of her relatives whose son was benefited through LabourNet. She thought that coming to Bangalore and getting a decent pay would be the best thing to do.

“I have a heavy loan to be repaid, my husband works on daily wages in the farm lands and his income is not enough for our family of six,” she says as she waves to her other friends to come and join. All the women have well oiled and plaited hair and are hopeful to get a job here. Sushila further explains how when she heard about this Mahila Milan where some other women from Kolar were also coming she could not miss this opportunity.

“It will be hectic to travel from Kolar to Bangalore but at the end I will be paid well and these people (LabourNet) have promised they will do my insurance too,” she explains while some of her friends look on and nod their heads, some hiding their smiles shyly. They are all mostly middle-aged women who have come here with hopes of getting jobs that would provide them insurance, accident cover and security.

What about lakhs of other workers in Bengaluru?

Sushila and her friends are not the only ones. There are hundreds and thousands of workers who come to the city with hopes for jobs. These migrants come from all over the country and specifically from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa. Most of them work here as construction workers, others are employed in various other professions such as security guards, domestic helpers, drivers, mechanics, plumbers, electricians and so on.

First of all, how many are there in the city? As the exact number of people migrating in the city is unknown the facilities in the unorganised sector also seem unclear. The Government of Karnataka does not have any documentation on the total number of unorganised sector workers in Bangalore or Karnataka.

“There are no accurate numbers or any sources to tell us the total number of people in the unorganised sector. I do not know how many people are working as house maids, electricians, plumbers and even workers in the small private enterprises, even they come under unorganised sector”, says G Manjunath, Deputy Commissioner, Labour Department of Karnataka. He adds that the government cannot hold surveys to find out these statistics, he says, adding that specialised survey organisations should do this. jacks

The unorganised sector has more to it than just domestic helpers as there are a huge number of construction workers (pic: M S Gopal)

“There are frequent surveys done by various survey organisations but there is no specific data about Karnataka or Bangalore in particular” , says Manjunath.

However, focusing on the sector LabourNet specialises in, he mentions that the Labour Department has details of the number of construction workers in the state and even in Bangalore, in part because they have a benefits programme running. The number of construction workers is calculated according to the licenses allotted to them by the Karnataka Labour Department.

“Under the Contract Labour Act 1970, there are two lakh construction workers in Bangalore. Out of these 63,000 construction workers are registered as beneficiaries (of the department) in the past two years in Bangalore. These include all the workers who have also migrated from other parts of the country to Bangalore,” explains Manjunath.

He further explains that it was the Labour department that went up to the builders and asked them to get their employees registered. Once registered, all these construction workers get accident benefit and death benefit upto Rs 1 lakh. Employee injury benefit of Rs.50,000 and more depending on the injury, funeral benefit of Rs.5000. Other benefits for the registered worker include education loans and marriage advances. Also if a construction worker is registered for five years, he is eligible to get a housing loan too. There are schemes to provide pension benefits too to the workers.

Explaining about the source of money for these benefits, Manjunath says, “Most of the money is given from the builder cess collected by the government. Builders have to give one per cent annual cess to the government. In two years we have collected more than Rs.280 crores from the builders in this way.” However he feels that this amount won’t be enough in the future and the Labour Department is keen on getting more funds from the government.

The unorganised sector comprises of construction workers, house maids, drivers, plumbers, electricians, office boys and so on.

According to a study done by the International Labour Organisation there is a total labour force of 406 million in India. Out of this, around 397 million are in the workforce and hardly 28 million are employed in the organized sector and the rest, that is 369 million workers (about 93 per cent), are in the unorganised sector.

About 237 million workers are employed in agricultural and related activities, 17 million in construction, 41 million in manufacturing, 37 million in the service sector and the remaining 37 million in trade.

According to the ILO, the share of the unorganised sector in the total Net Domestic Product (NDP is derived from the GDP after adjusting for capital consumption) at current prices has been over 60 per cent. This shows the significance of the sector in the economy.

Most workers unaware of benefits available today

At the campus of the department some construction work was going on and Citizen Matters indulged in a small chat with the workers there to know if these schemes are benefiting them. Nagaraju, a middle-aged lean bodied worker was happy to tell how easy it was to get registered and now he is secured. He explains that he came to know about registering only through his contractor.

“I was hesitant initially but then it was free so I jumped in. I realised its importance when two months back I broke my leg and got Rs.10,000 for medication,” he says pointing at his right foot with wound marks on it.

His wife Lakshamma looks on as she stops picking up bricks and other workers come together standing all around me. They all have different stories and are happy to have been registered with the Labour Department. While they all talk, another worker Ramesh, says that even when his colleagues are benefiting from this system there are many more who are unaware of this.

“There are so many of them who still stand at Peenya and Mysore Road waiting to be picked up for daily wages, there are many who die on construction sites unaware of the death benefits provided by the government,” he expresses his concern. In Bengaluru, Seshadripuram, Jalahalli Cross near Peenya and Mysore Road are designated places where workers come and stand every morning to be picked by contractors. This is similar to most cities in India where there are designated spots (mostly industrial layouts) that are waiting areas for skilled and unskilled workers to be picked up by contractors.

Ramesh says that builders and unions should convey such messages to the workers, otherwise it becomes difficult for the workers to get to know about such schemes. However none of these workers had a slightest clue about LabourNet or Babajobs.

Still, with private players doing their bit and the state government pitching in to some degree, there seems to be some ray of hope. It is still a long way though for better living conditions overall for cooks, maids, drivers, construction workers, and others like them in Bengaluru.