Crushing job: Study points out risks for migrant workers at stone quarries

National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj found significant child labour at quarries in Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh

By DTE Staff
Published: Monday 28 October 2019

Migrants working in stone quarries of Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh lived in poor conditions, without adequate safety, which increased health risks, according to a study by the National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (NIRDPR).

Poor living and working conditions coupled with lack of nutritious food increased the labourers risk to various respiratory diseases such as tuberculosis, bronchitis and asthma; malaria and anaemia particularly among women and children, found the study published in the National Journal of Labour and Industrial Law.

Further, the worksites followed no safety standards. The workers were not provided with personal protective equipment — helmets, goggles, boots, respiratory masks, gloves or protective clothing — and medical care, except during labour inspections. 

Child labour, which was found to be significant in most of the quarries in both states, also worked without any safety measures. “Children  were seen working with their bare hands with hammers and sieves,” according to the study.

A majority of the workers in the stone quarries were from backward castes and scheduled castes. 

While, labour conditions were slightly better in quarries operated by state-owned companies, long-term binding contracts through loans and wage advances was the labour hiring practice in both Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, the study found.

The study also indicated the dynamics of people movement — poor and unskilled people from Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka moved to Tamil Nadu, while those from Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand migrated to Uttar Pradesh for work.

“Seasonal migrant labourers constituted an important component of the workforce in granite quarries in Tamil Nadu and are mostly employed to do bottom-end tasks that are highly risky that the local labourers may not be willing to undertake them,” the study showed.

Because of the high mobility in changing of worksites, the rights of the labour force has been neglected, said R Chinnadurai, co-author of the paper and associate professor, Centre for Decentralised Planning, NIRDPR, in a statement. 

The changing of worksites also meant that children lacked good education and basic amenities. Non-availability of schools near the worksites and trouble of studying in language other than their mother tongue forced many to drop out.

These children, then, accompanied their parents to the worksites and started learning the ropes at ages 5-10 years, the study noted.

“It is a cyclical nature of system that, generation to generation they engage in this sector. They are bonded to the system of quarry labour,” the study noted.

“It is essential to create educational access to their children either in the workplaces or arrangement of boarding and accommodation in the form of priority in admission to the boarding schools nearer to the place of work,” said R Aruna Jayamani, co-author of the paper and assistant professor, Centre for Planning Monitoring and Evaluation, NIRDPR.

The condition of women was found to be even more difficult. The per-day wage earnings of women in waste stone processing activity varied between Rs 150 and 200 for eight to nine hours of work, which is below the legal minimum wage rates prescribed for unskilled workers in granite quarries, the study showed.

While there no labour organisation was registered in any of the work sites, non-governmental organisations were working for the quarry workers' welfare and legal support, he said.

“Awareness creation of the rights and provisions of various laws pertaining to labour under the Constitution of India, making adequate initiatives to implement the protective and welfare measures for the betterment of the working conditions are the need of the hour,” Chinnadurai noted. 

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