MADURAI: Unemployment and increasing poverty have forced many a worker in the inland to seek work elsewhere. The recent deaths of three workers employed by Sakthi Constructions on contract basis for road-widening works along Vaigai river under Smart City Mission have raised several questions on the lack of basic facilities for them.
During the wee hours of February 6, three workers – P Babu (38) from Chennai, K Venkatesh (30) and C Periyasamy (34) from Salem – were involved in the road-widening work along the Vaigai.
As there was a delay in bringing the construction materials and due to lack of space and adequate ventilation in a thatched hut provided by the contractor, they had slept on the riverbed on which a truck path was laid for the movement of trucks, ferrying construction materials.
The three were crushed under the wheels of a truck while the vehicle was reversing. While Venkatesh and Periyasamy died on the spot, Babu succumbed to severe injuries at Government Rajaji Hospital (GRH) the same day.
The family members of the workers claimed that they were neither paid compensation nor the salary arrears of the deceased. Malathi, sister of deceased Periyasamy said, “He was the sole bread winner of the family. His wife, two children and her old parents are in dire straits now.”
Angry over the insensitive behaviour of the contractor, she said “Whose Smart City is it? We cannot afford to travel in a car on the roads we lay. All we seek is humanely treatment of the workers.”
A contract worker who sought anonymity told TNIE that the workers did not have any fixed working time. “We should work whenever the mason orders us to work. We are being paid once in 10 or 15 days in accordance with the work done.”
At least 60 people would sleep in thatched huts made for the workers. A temporary area enclosed with palm fronds is used for taking bath and washing clothes for which water would be supplied in tankers.
“We are using nearby government toilets. One among the migrant workers take up the role of cook. There is no separate room for cooking,” said the worker. He further added that no safety equipment including gloves, shoes, or helmets were given to them.
Sources said that more than 1,000 workers employed by different contractors under Smart City Mission and several other projects have the same plight.
What the law says?
The Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 mandates a barrack that could accommodate not more than ten workers. The barrack should have at least a floor area of not less than 6.5 square metres for each worker, a varandah and adequate additional covered space for cooking food. It should also contain one common sanitary latrine and one common bathroom for every ten workers.
Every quarters and the barrack should be constructed with adequate ventilation and protection against heat, rain and should have smooth, hard and impervious floor surface. Adequate quantity of drinking water should be made available at the accommodation provided by the contractor as well as at the work site.
A canteen with a dining hall, store room, pantry and separate washing space should be there at every establishment that employees migrant workers for works that would exceed six months. And, the area should be maintained with hygiene by the contractor. The workers’ safety should be ensured by the contractor.
When the contractor fails to abide by the mandates, the principal employer, which is the Madurai Corporation in the case of Smart City Projects, is responsible for providing and ensuring the safety of the workers.
However, responding to the death of workers, a higher official from Madurai Corporation said, “It is the responsibility of the contractor to ensure safety and pay the compensation in this case. The civic body could not involve once the contract is signed with the contractor.”