Working At the Margins

A report on the working conditions of the invisiblized frontline workers


Foreword by the Director Following one of the most draconian and ruthless lockdowns that any country has introduced for the Covid-19 outbreak, in May 2020, more than 1.19 lakh documented (Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) data) migrant workers travelled from Bengaluru to their homes in northern parts of Karnataka, mostly Kalaburgi, Yadgir, Koppal and Bidar districts. During the lockdown the State government has been lax in fulfilling many of its major responsibilities around food, education, public transport, healthcare etc., but it chose to “control” the pandemic primarily by targeting some of the most vulnerable and marginalised citizens of the State, such as the migrant workers. The State was even ready to impose draconian measures such as police force and stopping train/bus services under duress by the real estate and other business interests, to prevent workers from going back home. The decision to resume trains was made only after vocal criticism of the government by trade unions, civil society groups and the Opposition parties. Several thousand migrant labourers from North Karnataka region come to work in the construction and other industry in Bengaluru. Migration for labour is highest among the Scheduled caste communities and most uncommon among socially privileged categories More than 50% workers earn less than Rs. 6000/month and more than 68% of migrant workers from socially marginalised SC, ST and OBC caste are landless with landless SC being the highest proportion. Escape from caste discrimination in their native villages and lack of access to basic facilities is a big reason for migration. Even if they do own small land holdings, they are unable to grow a second crop because of the arid weather. Many people were neither paid by their employers nor by the state government. Although the Chief Minister of Karnataka had announced a total of Rs. 5000 for the 15.8 lakh registered construction workers, many of them hadn’t received it and many thousand others are not even registered. It was mainly the support of civil society that offered some relief to the workers and some recourse to go back to their homes. There is no robust data on numbers of migrant workers, where they work or their working conditions. It is as though beyond their services the workers are themselves of no consequences. The workers do not have access to most of the social security schemes such as Public Distribution System (PDS), Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme or the Mid-day meal scheme. Their accesss to healthcare schemes is also unclear. In the absence of data, interventions cannot be planned and definitely no grievance redressal if they face exploitation, abuse, labour law violation, harassment etc. 3 Those who went back to their villages were not readily offered work under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) as they should have been. The government should have been cogninsant of the fact that 50 thousand people traveling back would need immedate access to livelihood and basics such as water, shelter, food, education etc. Now again, pushed by poverty and looming unemployment in northern Karnataka districts, many of the migrant workers are coming back to Bangalore in search of jobs, inspite of the rising number of cases of Covid and the poor treatment that had been meted out to them earlier. It is important that the government understand this and work to strengthening people’s access to dignity and essential services. This is a good opportunity for the government and bureacurats to introspect into the reasons for large scale migration to the city and whether this can be alleviated by more decentralised planning, keeping the most vulnerable communities as the focus. Those who stay back need investment into their requirements and those who migrate to Bangalore also need a different kind of support. Ashirvad Social Concern, Bengaluru has put together this report in the hope that it will initiate this process. It help us understand the main reasons for migration and also that more than half (52.72%) of the individuals interviewed belonged to Scheduled Caste communities, followed by Hindu Other Backward Classes castes ( 21%) and Scheduled Tribes comprised 7.26%. 32.8% migrated to Bangalore with an average income of 461.5/day but only 6.25% of the respondents who reported working in the construction sector had a construction labour card. I thank our partners mentioned below for painstakingly collecting this data from Bijapur, Raichur, Haveri and Uttara kannada, inspite of the difficulties of the pandemic and lockdown. I thank Siddharth KJ for collating the report. Looking forward to change in a positive direction. Fr. Jerald D’Souza Director, Ashirvad Centre for Social Concern