Several categories, skilled and unskilled thousands of labourers, who migrate from villages to the city, are struggling to make both ends meet across 200 labour locations (‘addas’) in the city at 8 am. They await holding lunch boxes for those who offer work, with anxiety writ large on their faces worrying what’s in store for them during the day. Construction workers wait in Hyderabad’s labour addas for work, often for hours together without shelter, basic facilities, or the promise of a day’s wages.
“You want labourers?” This is a common question that one hears, as you pass through the busy Yousufguda junction in Hyderabad in the early hours of the morning. As the city gets ready for the day and dust is kicked up in the air, at least 300 labourers can be seen standing along both sides of the road, many holding tiffin boxes and some tools, eagerly scanning each face that passes by.
Yousufguda is one among the city’s more than 200 labour addas, where construction workers congregate each morning, hoping that they will find work, at least for that day. These addas in Hyderabad accommodate more than 60,000 labourers according to some estimates and most of them are rural migrants. The workers mainly are involved in constructing residential and commercial spaces in the public and private sectors. The kind of construction work ranges from masonry to carpentry, plumbing and plastering.
The aftermath of liberalisation in Hyderabad, which saw privatisation and a huge Information Technology boom in the ‘90s, triggered the need for infrastructure to be created, thereby increasing the demand for manual labour with convenient wages. With this, thousands of marginal labourers from hinterlands of the state and other states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Odisha started flocking to Hyderabad in search of work.
However, over the last month or so, work has been sporadic, as the real estate sector is also witnessing a slowdown, according to studies published earlier this year.
As per the Telangana Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board (TBOCWB), there are 2,11,846 registered labourers in Telangana and around 30% of them work in the area under Hyderabad. A little over 50% who work in Hyderabad hail from Telangana state, while the remaining migrate from other states for work.
Hyderabad’s marginalised, migrant labourers
So, who are Hyderabad’s construction labourers? Mohammad Irfan Basha, Programme Officer at ActionAid, points out, “Most of these people come from marginal rural families in search of a livelihood to make a better life, they aim for clearing the debts, marrying off their daughters or wish to build a pakka house.”
According to a paper titled Migration and Conflict in the Mega City: Migrants in Hyderabad published in Urban India journal in 2014, a staggering 58.49% of the daily wage workers are Scheduled Castes while the remaining are from other marginalised communities. Out of the total 100% of migrants, at least 15.7% contribute or survive by working in construction sector.
Sreekanth S, a 25-year-old labourer from Veleru in Warangal district, has been staying with his friends in Rahmat Nagar. He says, “I came here thinking I could get some work and save, but survival itself has become tough.”
“We don’t own a single piece of land. If we have land, I would have stayed back home doing farming,” says Sreekanth who hails from the Yerukala community, categorised as ST in the state. “If not for crop yields, at least schemes like Rythu Bandhu (a state financial scheme for farmers) would have helped me.”
However, even those from land-owning families end up at the addas in search of work.
28-year-old K Lakshman Yadav and Gopi M (31) who hail from Madipalli in Madhira in Khammam district stood at the labour adda in Panjagutta.
While his mother and father are working as labourers in Medak, he along with his friend, are staying in Hyderabad to work for construction sites in the city. He says that he may or may not earn Rs 10,000 per month as he doesn’t get work regularly.
“We have land but how much can we earn with that? I never saw us getting profits on that land, so my family decided to migrate for work in my childhood,” said K Lakshman, who is a graduate.
However, for the labourers, eking out a livelihood is a constant challenge.
Gruelling hours and an unstable income
With uncertain work hours and low wages, breaking out of the vicious cycle of poverty remains one of the biggest challenges for labourers.
“It’s been more than 20 years that we are working as labourers in the city. Still, whatever we earn goes for the rent and food,” says 50-year-old Srilakshmi, who hails from Srimukalingam in Srikakulam. Anger and disillusionment wash over her, as Srilakshmi narrates that she is paid Rs 800 for a day’s work. The hours – that often stretch up to eight or more – are gruelling with back-breaking work that include carrying heavy loads of cement and sand on her head and digging pits for laying the foundation of buildings.
Standing in the shade of the metro pillar, several men and women labourers had similar stories to tell.
Most of the women workers are hired as helpers to mix the construction material or to lift the ready material, as per the needs of masons. The wages for the workers ranges from Rs 500 to Rs 900, but women at the addas complain of a wage gap.
46-year-old Karinika, a woman labourer from a village in Odisha’s Gajapati district says, “When there is no work at all, where is the question of disparity in wages and other rights? Even if there is work also, we are paid Rs 100 to Rs 200 less than what our male counterparts get.”
Srilakshmi is paid only on the days she finds work. On other days, she may earn even less or nothing at all, making it an unstable income. If she’s lucky to find work for 20 days a month, Srilakshmi, who has a family of four, says she earns anywhere between Rs 15,000 to Rs 16,000. Irrespective of what she takes home every month, the 50 year-old says, she has to shell out for Rs 4000 to Rs 5000 in rent every month.
Echoing Srilakshmi, Gourakka from Adilabad in Telangana says that she hasn’t found steady work for a month now. “I’ve been coming here for work for the last eight years. Very few contractors are coming to hire us at present. We heard that it’s because of the prices of construction material like cement and sand shooting up,” she says.
A lack of facilities
The wait for work begins at 6.30 am every day, when labourers congregate at traffic junctions like the one in Yousufguda or outside the steps of a mall; for example the Hyderabad Central in Panjagutta.
“All of us are here for work, but these days hardly any of us are getting work. We wait for an hour or two and leave just to come back tomorrow,” says 45-year-old Shaik Ismail, a migrant labourer from Vennacharla of Nagarkurnool district in Telangana.
If they’re lucky, they are approached by agents or residents who seek labourers for construction projects. Many a time, the wait for work stretches to mid-day. This means they have to wait without a toilet break under the hot sun or in pouring rain for work, hanging around on pavements near the addas until nearby shop owners ask them to leave.
Several women workers waiting at addas in Hyderabad who spoke to #KhabarLive, say that there are no facilities like shelter, toilets or restrooms. “It’s difficult to find toilets and a shelter where we can sit or have a glass of water. Nearby, there is only one public toilet, which is often closed,” says 30-year-old B Mallishwari, who has been a construction worker for the last eight years.
What’s more, these labourers, especially women, told #KhabarLive that the lack of facilities often result in health complications.
According to Irfan Basha of ActionAid, an international NGO which published a study in December 2018 on Construction Workers in Hyderabad, out of the 120 identified labour addas, not even 20 addas have proper facilities like access to a toilet and drinking water, besides a decent shelter.
Irfan said, “As most of these addas are located near private spaces, it has become tough to find public toilets. Labourers are supposed to get the minimum facilities at these addas and at the places they work.”
What is the govt doing?
The state government has constituted the Telangana Building And Other Construction Workers Welfare Board (TBOCWWB) as per the Building & Other Construction Workers (RE&CS) Act, 1996.
The board works for the welfare of the construction workers and aims to see that the labourers get safe work conditions and facilities besides providing support for healthcare and relief in times of accidents.
The data available with Telangana BOCWWB shows as many as 1,44,083 construction workers have registered and are eligible to get the facilities which the government provides.
There are financial provisions as well; In case a labourer dies during work, kin get Rs 6 lakh as ex gratia, while a fatal accident resulting in disability would ensure a compensation of Rs 5 lakh. There are also provisions of Rs 30,000 during the time of marriage and Rs 30,000 for maternity, along with six other welfare schemes.
The board functions through collection of 1% cess tax from each of the projects, and the collected amount is used for the welfare of the dependants of the construction sector.
According to K Ravinder Reddy, Secretary and CEO of the Board, in the last five years the board has collected more than Rs 1,400 crore and spent around Rs 400 crore for different welfare schemes.
He said, “Around 1 lakh construction workers have advantages from different schemes like accident relief, medical-health care and deaths. The government wants to strengthen healthcare scheme and we are planning to issue health cards in association with Arogyasri trust.”
When asked about the lack of basic amenities at work places and labour addas, Reddy said, “We have taken all these issues into notice. We are working with GHMC in Hyderabad to assess the feasibility. We are ready to spend money for facilities like shelters and toilets and restrooms for women.”
The officials say that lack of government-owned lands in the vicinity of labour addas is also one of the main obstacles even if they want to set up toilets or restrooms.
But in the labour addas, the desperation is evident among struggling workers, as they share their phone numbers with this reporter, with the plea, “If you have any work or find something that we can do, please call us.” #KhabarLive