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A burning issue for migrant labourers in Kerala

The New Indian Express, India, 2 April 2019 - The state's Labour Commissionerate's timely instruction states obligatory break time for labourers between 12 pm and 3 pm during summer. The directive was issued on February 26 complying with section 23(A) of the Minimum Wages Act constituted in 1958, keeping in mind the potential dangers of heatstroke.

Notwithstanding the order, migrant labourers were seen laying tiles for roads at 1 pm, when the sun is at its scorching best. "I'm aware of the directive," said Gopal, an overseer. Part of an Alappuzha-based construction company, he supervises workers who were building a house in Kaloor. "But we have been given fixed deadlines and work is to be completed on time," he continued.

Questioned about the after-effects of being in the sun, he shifted himself anxiously, clearly uncomfortable with the conversation. "I will ask them to take rest now," he immediately quipped when told about the inspection conducted by the enforcement squads under the Labour Department.

Down the road labourers were seen plying bricks on the road leading to Lisie Hospital. "We don't have a choice. Money is a necessity and it has to be sent home for daily expenses," said Bishnu, who hails from Kolkata. "We are paid as per our deadline. Any delay in work will cease payment," he said. However, their contractor, Francis, spins another tale. "I have told them about the directive- they were asked to stay indoors from 12 pm-3 pm. I do not know why they haven't implemented it yet," he said.

Not all jobs can afford to follow the order though. Sebastian S, an overseer at KSEB sectional office at Kaloor, explained a group of technicians working at Judges Avenue at 1 pm - they were forced to carry out emergency services like restoring power to strategic locations, irrespective of the timing restrictions imposed. "However, with our officials starting operations as early as 7.30 am now, we try to schedule all planned work in such a way to avoid our men going out on the ground between 12 - 3 pm," he said.
District Collector K Mohammed Y Safirulla had warned slapping criminal cases against contractors who force labourers to work directly under the hot sun, openly defying rules.

"Inspections will be on until April 30. Until Friday, we monitored 90 sites and constrained work at one site in Aluva. Memos will be issued and strict action will be taken against those who disregard the rules," said VB Biju, district labour officer.


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