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‘Only the rich can work from home’: At Gurgaon’s labour chowk, Covid disruptions push daily-wagers to the brink

Dispelling rumours of another lockdown amid a spike in Covid cases, the deputy commissioner had on January 12 issued a statement saying that the situation was under control and a lockdown was not required. The DC had appealed to migrant workers not to panic and not pay heed to rumours.

Written by Pavneet Singh Chadha | Gurgaon |
Updated: January 25, 2022 8:44:13 am
Migrant labourers, covid-19, WFH, Work from home, Delhi news, Delhi latest news, Indian express, Indian express news, current affairs Labourers said some residential societies were refusing to offer jobs without proof of vaccination. (Representational/Express Photo by Manoj Kumar)

“I fear another lockdown, but don’t have enough money to return to my village again,” said Raj Kumar, a migrant labourer, holding a five-foot-long plastering tool as he stood at the crossing colloquially called Labour Chowk, near Gurgaon’s Bristol Hotel on Tuesday morning. He, alongside dozens others, was hoping to find work for the day at a construction site.

Kumar, who hails from Mahoba district in Uttar Pradesh, commutes in a shared auto to the chowk daily from his rented shanty in Sector 27. For the last five days, he has had to return without getting any work. In March 2020, when the first lockdown was imposed, he had walked for eight days to reach his village.

At the chowk on Tuesday, labourers kept their vaccination certificate and Aadhaar cards handy, showing it to any person who stopped to offer them work. Labourers said some residential societies were refusing to offer jobs without proof of vaccination.

“In the past week, I’ve managed to find work twice at a construction site, which pays Rs 500-700 a day. The last few months have been difficult since construction sites were shut due to pollution, and now with Covid cases rising, restrictions have been imposed and jobs have dried up. It is becoming difficult to pay rent,” he said.

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Each time a car stopped at the junction, Kumar and others rushed to offer their services for work in construction, loading/unloading, painting, domestic help, and gardening.

Hundreds of migrant workers – from Nathupur, Chakkarpur, Sukhrali, Sector 56 and nearby villages – gather every day at 7 am and wait for hours to find a job. They include former factory workers, plumbers, masons, and construction workers, many of whom have been rendered unemployed in the pandemic. Most either walk for several kilometres or travel in shared tempos. Many return without finding work in the afternoon.

Labourers said a palpable fear had set in due to the pandemic rearing its head time and again, and work opportunities dwindling as a result

Hathi Singh, a migrant from Bundi, Rajasthan, said that after hearing rumours of another lockdown, he sent his three children and wife to his village last week. “Phirse lockdown laga toh akela aadmi kaise sabka kharcha nikalega (If a lockdown is imposed again, how will I manage household expenses?). I pay Rs 3,500 monthly rent. Earlier, I would find work here most days of the week, but jobs are hard to come by now. Contractors are also exploiting the situation. With excess labour available, they either offer a lower wage or renege on payment. We can’t go to the court,” said Singh.

Dispelling rumours of another lockdown amid a spike in Covid cases, the deputy commissioner had on January 12 issued a statement stating that the Covid situation was under control and there was no need for a lockdown. In the statement, the DC had appealed to migrant workers not to panic and not pay heed to rumours.

“It seems that we are stuck. Just when things appear to be improving, another wave comes or work is restricted on account of pollution. I thought of returning to my village, but I do not have any savings. It is becoming difficult to afford three meals a day,” said Dhani Ram (50), a mason from Chhatarpur in Madhya Pradesh.

Ram said he was unable to pay rent last month since he only found work for a week, and was forced to vacate his house by the landlord. “I slept in the open for two days,” he said.

Ram Pratap (30), a resident of Sukhrali village, who recently suffered a leg injury, sat on the pavement for hours on Tuesday. At 12.30 pm, he got up to leave.

“Mein beldari aur majdoori ka kaam karta hun (I do loading/unloading and labour work). Work was already difficult to come by and now I have suffered an injury. With expenses rising and rent of Rs 2,500 due this month, I cannot afford to sit at home. Only the rich can work from home,” he said.

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