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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Low wages, no respect, no security…this is how we treat informal workers

Organised by the Working Peoples’ Charter, a collective that works with informal labour, the event Informal Workers' Narratives 1.0 was an effort to initiate a dialogue between informal labourers and the people they work for. About 90 per cent of India's workforce is in the unorganised sector.

Written by Kainat Sarfaraz | New Delhi |
Updated: January 16, 2018 9:15:29 pm
From gender pay gap to rural-urban migration, absence of social security to domestic labour abuse to social discrimination, the two-hour discussion touched upon several areas which affect the labour community. (Express Photo)

Mazdoor agar building nahi banayenge, toh kabhi socha hai aap kahan rahoge? (Have you ever wondered where would you stay if labourers do not construct buildings)” Pana Devi, a 36-year-old construction worker, asked an audience of over 100 people at Informal Workers’ Narratives, in the national capital on Sunday. The audience, mainly from the privileged class, was silent for a moment or two before breaking into a round of applause. Pana was one of the eight panelists discussing the role of informal workers in building our cities, our everyday life and the challenges faced by them.

Organised by the Working Peoples’ Charter, a collective that works with informal labour, the event Informal Workers’ Narratives 1.0 was an effort to initiate a dialogue between informal labourers and the people they work for. About 90 per cent of India’s workforce is in the unorganised sector.

“The idea was to provide a platform where these workers could talk about themselves, their struggle, exploitation and journey, among other things,” Chandan Kumar, organiser and member of National Human Rights Commission’s core group on bonded labour, told IndianExpress.com. “We realised it could be a powerful idea if there was a dialogue with the middle class and elite who hire such people.”

The irony of these unheard voices converging in the chambers of Lutyen’s Zone was not lost on anybody. Underlining this, Pana, speaking from the podium of India Habitat Centre’s Gulmohar Hall, asked: “Aaj se pehlay, kya mujh jaise mazdoor ko kabhi yahan ghusne dete? (Had it not been for this event, would a labourer like me be allowed to enter this building)” The audience had no response.

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From gender pay gap to rural-urban migration, absence of social security to domestic labour abuse to social discrimination, the two-hour discussion touched upon several areas which affect the labour community. “Agar kisi aurat ke bacche hai, toh usse kaam dete hi nai. Kaam mil bhi jaaye toh paise kam dete hain. Inko kyun lagta hai ke auratein kam kaam karti hain? Auratein toh double kaam karti hain (If a woman has children, she is not given any work. Even if they get some work, they are paid less. Why do people think that women work less? Women work more than men),” Pana said, adding that if women workers protest against the gender pay gap, they are often asked to leave.

One common complaint among the workers was the lack of respect for their profession. (Express Photo)

Hamein Sunday ko chutti nahi dete kyunke unke ghar mehmaan aate hain. Kya hamare ghar mehmaan aur rishtedaar nahi aate? (We do not get holidays on Sundays because the owners have relatives coming over to their house. Don’t we have relatives or guests to attend to)” Arti, a domestic worker, asked, adding. “Hamein bathroom tak use karne nahi dete. Kya hum insaan nahi hain? (We are not even allowed to use their bathrooms. Are we not human beings)” Born to a domestic worker, the 31-year-old has spent a major part of her life as a domestic help.

Arti stressed on the need for laws on domestic labour in order to fix work hours, wage, pension and also tackle arbitrary wage deduction among other things. “Agar hum gharon mein kaam na karein, kya woh mahilayein jo aaj yahan aake baithi hai, kya woh yahan baith sakti hai? (If we don’t work at other people’s homes, would the women sitting here be able to attend this event)”

Apart from wage and rights, one common complaint of the workers was the lack of respect for their profession. “Hamara bhi koi wajood hai. Hum bhi desh ki seva karte hain. Aapke yahan jo sabziyan pohochti hai, woh hum apne kandhe pe uthake truck mein daalte hain (We too have an identity. We too serve the country. We carry the vegetables on our back to the trucks before they reach your home),” said Anil Singh, a Hamal worker who has been working at the Azadpur mandi for 29 years. “Agar chai bechne wale Modi ji pradhan mantri bann sakte hain, toh bori dhone wale bhi toh mantri bann sakte hai? (If a tea-seller like Modi ji can become the Prime Minister, so can labourers like us)” he said amid applauses and a few chuckles.

The efforts to transgress caste and class boundaries between employees and employers are too few and far between. Power dynamics at work is a concept that many do not notice. Some people at the event were a proof of that.

A first-year student from the Indraprastha College questioned if all their problems could solely be solved by the government. “The government can just make laws. The mentality has to be changed. If you are working somewhere and they call you names when they are irritated, don’t you think aapko unko pyaar se bolna chahiye ke aap hamein aise mat boliye (you should ask them politely not to call you names),” she asked, adding the government had constructed toilets under the Swachh Bharat scheme.

Narendra Modi ji ne toilets ke liye scheme banayi hai, acchi baat hai. But kitni bastiyon mein aaj toilets hain? (It is a good thing that Narendra Modi has created a scheme for toilets. But how many slums have these toilets)” Arti replied. “Aur aap apne ghar mein zaroor puchna ke mummy, aap aunty ko toilet use karne dete ho? (And you should also ask your mother if she allows the maid to use your toilet)

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