Information about the issue:
Accidents in construction sites are a very common phenomenon. In the Delhi region, there have been several such cases recently in which laborers have suffered severe injuries and even succumbed to their wounds. However, migrant workers are generally not compensated adequately or, at all, by their employees for the accidents that occur in the workplace.
The ILO’s Global Programme Employment Injury Insurance and Protection recognizes and promotes the need to provide social security and protection to all employed laborers in case of occupational injuries as a significant step towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals. To this end, Indian Central Labor Laws such as the Workmen Compensation Act, 1923, Employees’ State Insurance Scheme, 1948, Code on Social Security, 2020, and the Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions, 2020, have taken considerable strides in protecting the rights of the workers and ensuring compensation for occupational health hazards. Nevertheless, the absence of well-defined labor policies for migrant workers and improper implementation of the existing codes render these communities vulnerable to economic and social exploitation.
Highlighting this issue wherein migrant workers in the construction industry are often deprived of fair compensation for workplace injuries, we identified these areas which have considerable scope for reforms:
- Clauses on the employer’s accountability for workplace injuries
We found that the issue of employer accountability is a primary hindrance to migrant workers seeking compensation for workplace injuries. Indian labor laws contain two interlinked and problematic aspects – compensation according to the degree of injury and proof of managerial negligence that led to the accident during employment. The lack of structural safeguards and established trade unions of migrant workers enables employers to evade the legal obligation of providing compensation to employees. Further, labor policies necessitate that a worker must be legally registered, and their injuries have to be officially reported by the employer for them to be eligible for compensation. However, in most cases, migrant workers are not formally contractually employed. The absence of proper records implies that the employers cannot be held accountable for not fulfilling their responsibility.
We observed that unregulated working hours and the lack of on-site medical assistance for injuries leave room for ambiguities in official reports filed by employers. Cases of delayed reporting inevitably lead to inconsistencies in details on the immediate injuries suffered during employment and resultant fatalities or other later complications. Consequently, even the compensation provided is often not in keeping with the severity of the injuries suffered. Additionally, since labor policies have a well-defined list of damages for which workers can claim compensation if the individual is rendered immobile due to health issues that develop due to the primary wound, the case becomes disputed. These cases can take up to a year to be resolved at tribunals, and migrant workers or their families can be indefinitely deprived of adequate compensation.
- Lack of stringent safety regulations
Labour codes that dictate the employer’s legal obligation to compensate for injuries in the workplace must also make explicit provisions for implementing standardized safety measures and giving special training to workers in the safe handling of tools. Since the onus lies on the employer to report occupational accidents, there is a need to systematically and uniformly monitor these occurrences in all sectors. Such monitoring is necessary to protect the rights of migrant workers in unorganized sectors as employers tend to personally settle the matter of compensation by paying a minimal amount.
We found that construction site accidents in Delhi that have gained the most media attention over the last few months have, in common, poorly inspected working conditions, improper infrastructure, and a lack of sufficient information regarding soil strength. We identified the need for more extensive research to gauge the extent of the management’s lapses in arranging for secure construction sites. Establishing uniform standards for safety protocols and organizing frequent region-wise inspections in the informal sector is necessary to reduce health hazards in work environments.
- Compensation policies for women
Indian labor laws and codes seem to have been formulated considering the male subject. Migrants constitute the most significant segment among female laborers in construction sites, and they are primarily all unregistered workers. While construction companies provide compensation in case of major accidents, most women sustain multiple minor injuries in the early stages of employment, significantly reducing their working capacity. However, they are not eligible to be compensated for these injuries. A recent study also reveals that female migrants tend to bring their children to the worksite, whether for employment or a lack of childcare services, which increases the risk of migrant children being involved in construction site accidents. For unregistered migrant workers, there are not many options to seek legal recourse in such cases.
What actions did we take?
As a part of our legal and advocacy efforts, we have communicated with the government stakeholders and highlighted the critical areas stated above. Through our recommendations, we have conveyed the urgency for more inclusive and gender-sensitive labor codes that reflect intersectionalities instead of dissolving social and caste-based differences.
Briefly, these were the specific recommendations we made:
- Compensation schemes have to be designed in a manner that there is an easy and direct path of access to higher authorities for the workers. Official reporting of accidents and injuries is still primarily the employer’s responsibility. In contrast, the fundamental human right to a safe working environment and compensation in case of oversights must be safeguarded by administrative bodies beyond the employer.
- Provisions must be made to swiftly compensate workers for injuries and health problems as early as possible without delays caused by extended examinations of the case.
- Although new labor codes have fixed the amounts for compensation proportionately with the degree of injury suffered, there must be allowances to determine whether the payment is commensurate with the individual’s financial situation.
- Governing bodies must be established at various levels in both the formal and informal sectors to uniformly monitor whether the factors in the ILO’s Occupational Safety and Health Recommendation are being met and followed by employers to ensure the safety of workers.
- Governmental bodies should organize training programs to make migrant workers aware of their rights and relevant sections of the labor codes.
How can you help?
- You can donate to us as per your capacity, to help sustain our initiatives.
- In case you are a resident of Delhi, and can help us in mapping such issues in your area, write to us.
- You can volunteer to work with us, as per your skillset.
Reach out to us at [email protected].