Workers building Namma Metro are facing a severe crisis due to the COVID-19 lockdown. Despite the central government’s order to all states to ensure that wages are paid during the lockdown period, the companies and contractors involved in Metro work have not paid most workers their salaries for February and March.
The construction of Metro Rail’s Yellow Line was stopped overnight on the day of the lockdown, and workers were asked to leave the construction site without any prior notice. Unless urgent action is taken by BMRCL and concerned authorities, thousands of workers will be directly affected and the secondary effects on their families will only worsen their plight.
Most Metro workers, who are under contract, hail from UP, MP, Bihar, Bengal, Jharkhand, Orissa, Assam etc. BMRCL has outsourced construction work to companies like L&T, Simplex, ITD Cementation, URC etc. These companies, in turn, employ a chain of sub-contractors to source the needed labour.
The workers are unorganised, and not unionised. Their residences are temporary. The contractor decides their place of work depending on the demand. The workers are totally dependent on their contractors. They are picked up and dropped off at the construction site and dropped back home.
The work sites have no safety conditions in place. Working 12 hours a day, seven days a week, with wage cuts if they do not work half-day on Sundays, workers often receive their wages almost two months late. They live in tin sheet colonies or makeshift buildings, hidden from public view and dispersed across the city. Living conditions are poor, with 10-20 persons staying in crammed rooms having no ventilation, no access to drinking water and poor sanitation.
Some key findings from the labour colonies
In the course of relief distribution, we, at Maraa, spoke to workers in seven labour colonies located around the Yellow Line near Electronic City, Bommanahalli and ITPL. Maraa is a media and arts collective that focuses on workers’ rights and gender issues.
Here are our findings:
- Over a stretch of 1 kilometre, there are an average of two labour colonies with roughly 300 workers. There could be approximately 15,000-20,000 workers across the 18-kilometre stretch of Yellow Line. The extension of Purple and Green Lines is also underway. There are several other labour colonies scattered across the city that may not fall under the purview of the state and related authorities.
- The workers earn Rs 300 for eight hours of work, and Rs 500 for 12 hours (four hours overtime) per day. Per month, they get Rs 13,000-15000.
- The money required for their ration/food is cut from their salaries.
- The living conditions across labour colonies were such that the health guidelines during lockdown – such as social distancing, gloves, masks, basic sanitation, hygiene etc. – were not followed. Some colonies did not have access to clean drinking water, and on an average had just two functional bathrooms for close to 150 workers.
There is no clear information on the number of such workers and their location. Based on our findings, we urge the BMRCL and relevant authorities to immediately address the following requirements:
- A public audit to evaluate the working and living conditions of Metro workers in all labour colonies in Bengaluru.
- Wages to be paid to workers for February and March. Most workers are the sole earning members in their families.
- Improved housing to be provided since current housing conditions are unhygienic and make social distancing impossible.
- Ration, drinking water and cooking gas to be provided free of cost to Metro Workers. Money for this should not be cut from their wages.
- Information about health camps and lockdown needs to be communicated clearly to the workers.
- Provision for safe travel back to their villages needs to be organised at the earliest. Information regarding the same needs to be shared with the workers.
The current condition is abysmal and requires immediate attention by BMRCL, other construction companies, and related government departments.
[This article is based on a press release from Maraa, with inputs from their report.]