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What is the real estate industry doing to help their migrant labour workforce?

Migrant labourers seen walking with their belongings at New Delhi’s National Highway 9 on March 30, 2020

Migrant labourers seen walking with their belongings at New Delhi’s National Highway 9 on March 30, 2020   | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

What developers are doing to help the migrant workers who dominate the industry

Our newsfeeds are flooded with videos and articles about migrant workers walking over a 100 km a day to reach their respective hometowns. The suspension of trains and buses and the sealing of State borders has left several thousands stranded across the country. Which industries do these labourers mainly service?

Real estate is the third largest sector after agriculture and manufacturing to use migrant labour. Says Prashant Thakur, Director & Head – Research, Anarock Property Consultants: “Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, and Tamil Nadu account for more than half of the country’s total construction employment.” As per the National Skill Development Council, the workforce employed by the construction and real estate sector is expected to grow to 76 million by 2022.

In the light of the lockdown, it is time to ask what industry bodies and developers are doing for their workers. “Due to the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 crisis, developers have been caught off guard and are unprepared to deal with the situation. However, many branded developers and major players are stepping forward with plans and policies to deal with this unforeseen situation,” says Thakur.

Keeping a check

Niranjan Hiranandani, National President of the National Real Estate Development Council (NAREDCO), says, “All industry bodies have communicated to their members the seriousness of the pandemic’s challenges and promised to assist migrant labourers as they are the most vulnerable.” But, in the given scenario, he adds, “we need to factor in that workers opting to move away from the sites to return to their villages is adding to the issue”.

Arun Mn, Founder and Managing Director, Casagrand, explains that on-site accommodation and a daily food allowance is being provided to all the migrant labourers he employs. “Basic sanitation facilities and wash areas have also been provided. We have arranged isolation rooms in each camp in case a need arises,” he says. Migrant workers make up 80% of his total worker strength of 4,700. “50% of these workers are from Bihar, followed by Odisha (18%), West Bengal (15%), Uttar Pradesh (8%), Madhya Pradesh (6%), Jharkhand (2%) and Andhra Pradesh (1%).”

Official guidelines (BOCW Act and Govt.)
  • 1. Collection of full labour / staff details and educating them about Covid-19, and taking necessary precautions
  • 2. All construction activity to be stopped
  • 3. Labour colonies to be equipped with basic amenities including sufficient basic food supplies, water, hand wash, thermal screening, sanitation facilities along with enough space for social distancing
  • 4. Isolation wards are provided
  • 5. Thermal screening carried out and recorded at least twice a day every day
  • 6. Arrangements for medical check-up for all workers on alternate days and maintaining records
  • 7. Movement of workers to be monitored
  • 8. Sufficient information regarding emergency contacts, nearby hospitals, grievance officer, etc., to be passed on to the workers
  • Courtesy: JLL India

Official directives

On March 23, the Directorate of Industrial Safety and Health sent out a circular instructing employers of Building and Other Construction Works (BOCW) establishments to comply with the provisions of the BOCW Act 1996 and the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Condition of Service) Act of 1979. The Act states that food, medical care and suitable accommodation, with separate space for cooking, bathing, washing and lavatory facilities are to be provided on-site or at a designated space nearby.

It also states that when more than 250 workers are employed and when more than 100 inter-State migrant workers are employed, canteen facilities must be provided. The rules also say that the contractor must ensure suitable and adequate medical facilities and preventive measures against epidemics and virus infections: ‘The entire cost on treatment, hospital charges and the travel expenses from hospital to resident shall be borne by the contractor’.

According to S. Sridharan, chairman of the Tamil Nadu chapter, the Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Associations of India (CREDAI) has sent directives to its builder members. They are required to provide workers with food and other essentials. “This is a tough time for the industry, and we have seen to it that all members are complying with the directives. Food and provisions are being supplied to labourers on-site and to those in camps. We have also intervened with contractors to ensure the supplies reach them,” he says.

A labourer stands on a truck carrying construction materials at a construction site of a residential building in Noida

A labourer stands on a truck carrying construction materials at a construction site of a residential building in Noida   | Photo Credit: ADNAN ABIDI

Cess funds

The Cess Act requires the construction industry to pay 1% of the total cost of their project towards the welfare of the labourers.

“It is difficult to say how many have followed this directive but, on the ground, several developers are trying to do their bit,” says Thakur of Anarock. “Builders across cities are providing grains, pulses, vegetables, drinking water and milk. In many cases, building sites and camps housing workers are being fumigated and sanitised.”

On-ground

According to Chitty Babu, Chairman and CEO of Akshaya, the 679 workers he employs have been sent to 10 labour colonies in Chennai and one in Trichy. “We have been sensitising them on the issue and taking precautionary measures on-site as well. Accommodation, food, access to toilets and drinking water is being provided. We have ambulance and medical facilities as well.”

Other builders say they are taking similar measures. If that is the case, what explains the mass exodus of labourers across States? “The lapses have happened in a few parts of the country and need to be dealt with severely,” said one industry source.

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Printable version | May 30, 2020 6:19:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/real-estate/what-builders-are-doing-to-help-migrant-workers-during-the-covid-crisis/article31226959.ece

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