A total of 552 migrant workers employed in construction projects at IIT-Madras and living in makeshift shelters outside the campus in Taramani are yet to be paid wages for nearly two months, including the COVID-19 lockdown period.
On a complaint filed by ChintaBar, a students collective in IIT-M, office of the Deputy Chief Labour Commissioner (Central) in Chennai has sought a reply from the Director of IIT-M.
A visit to one of the shelters revealed that the workers were accommodated in makeshift tin sheds that are divided into cabins of roughly 10 feet by six feet in size, where at least 10 workers have to cook and sleep. Four toilets are provided for more than 100 workers. “In this summer, it becomes really hot to stay inside the cabins with tin roofs and no fans,” said Afzal*, a worker from West Bengal. Afzal and his co-workers said their wages had been withheld since March, at least two weeks before lockdown. Ram*, another worker, said that though they were assured a payment of ₹500 per week for sustenance during the lockdown, the payment was not made fully.
ChintaBar, in its petition to the Labour department after enquiring with workers, said rice and rations provided by the department was distributed by the contractor after considerable delay.
Officials said that more than 350 workers had left and only close to 200 workers remained in the shelters now. The construction work is being carried out by the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) through DEC Infrastructure and Projects (Private) Limited.
When contacted, the IIT-M Director’s office denied responsibility as the construction was handled by the CPWD. On the Labour Department’s e-mail holding IIT-M as the ‘Principal Employer,’ the Director’s office said that the principal employer was the CPWD.
An official from the CPWD acknowledged that wages were pending for the lockdown period. “We are awaiting clarifications from IIT-M, and the CPWD headquarters. Once they are received, the wages will be credited into the bank accounts of the workers,” he said.
On other allegations, the official said that he personally visited the camps after some complaints in the beginning of April after some complaints and ensured that there was no shortage of food supplies. “We directed the contractor to provide allowance every week and supply masks and sanitisers as well. We were given proof that these were done,” he said.
Denying allegations, a supervisor from DEC Infrastructure and Projects (Private) Limited, working at the site, assured to get back with detailed response from the company, but did not.