‘Brick kiln workers in India underpaid and exploited’

India employs double the number of labourers than China, yet produces one-fifth of China’s annual brick production of 1 trillion

By Jitendra
Published: Thursday 12 March 2015

The brick kiln industry in India employs 10 million labourers, mostly migrants

At least 10 million labourers in India are employed in the unorganised brick kiln industry, working under unhygienic conditions. China’s brick kiln industry, on the other hand, is more organised and less labour-intensive, says a research paper  published by the Delhi-based environment think tank, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

According to the paper, which was presented at CSE’s annual event, the Anil Agarwal Dialogue, 2015, China has around 5 million labourers engaged in brick production and they together produce nearly 1 trillion bricks every year. India employs double the number of labourers and yet produces one-fifth of the total production in China.

Usually, an entire family is involved in brick production and they get Rs 400-500 for 1,000 bricks. Although the industry provides employment to a large number of people, it violates their rights as the labourers are underpaid and exploited. “The labourers become bonded after they take advance. They are physically tortured by the contractor if they wish to leave their job. Even their payments are stopped, making it hard for an entire family to survive,” Sudhir Kumar Katiyar, project coordinator of the Udaipur-based non-profit, Prayas Centre for Labour Research and Action, said at the dialogue.

His organisation carried out a survey a few years back to study the health effects of brick kiln workers. “We found that besides posture-related problems, the labourers have difficulty breathing as they are more exposed to dust,” Katiyar added. The long hours of hard work don’t pay off either as the workers and their families do not have proper housing and sanitation facilities.

sudhirMost of these workers are migrants, and the law has hardly come to their aid. “Different states have enacted different Acts for the brick kiln workers, but no law has been effectively implemented,” said J John of the Centre for Education and Communication which works with brick kiln labourers. He cited the example of a worker who was abducted from the Bahadurgadh brick kiln in Haryana two days ago by another kiln owner, who forced him to work at his site. “The local authorities freed him after we intervened,” John said.

Bhism Pandit, an energy auditor based in Nepal, who was also present at the dialogue, observed that the state of labourers across South Asia is the same. He also admitted that the brick kiln industry is a highly unorganised sector. Nepal has around 140,000 labourers working in 700 brick kilns, he claimed.

Demanding decent working conditions for kiln workers, Katiyar noted that lack of labour unions in the industry perpetuates the problem. “Labour unions of brick kiln workers in Punjab and Haryana helped check the arbitrariness of kiln owners to some extent” Kumar added.

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