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Uncalculated risks: Contractual workers fight to save their lives and livelihoods

| Updated: August 3, 2022 13:16

Nasreen Bano (50), clutches hard the papers in the cradle of her arm, as her nephew, Aslam Nagori (26), talks to the media about his accident. Nasreen knows the documents in her hand-collected over a year since Aslam’s accident – is her only chance to get justice for her nephew, who is now wheelchair-bound and unemployed.

“The day the accident occurred, the officers at the Dani Limda police station refused to register a complaint saying that such accidents are nobody’s fault. It took a lot of running from pillar to post to have them register a complaint,” she said.

Aslam was 25-years-old when he fell 20 feet from a scaffold at a construction site near Paldi. Working for Hari Om Textiles on the morning of September 19, 2020, Aslam, who usually worked as a helper for a daily wage of Rs 300, was not supposed to be anywhere near the scaffold. “He was asked to help by his contractor without any safety gear. He first fell on a cement roofing sheet, which broke and fell to the ground between heavy construction machines. The fall broke his spinal cord. He has been unable to walk ever since,” Nasreen said.

Nasreen alleged that her family was informed of the accident hours after it had happened. “We were to take him to Civil Hospital but the contractor asked us to take him to a private hospital. We have paid over Rs 1.6 lakh so far for his treatment. The doctor who conducted the operation gave a letter to us to hand over to Dani Limda police station. No one there accepted the letter at first. It had all the details of the accident, and how it happened,” she said.

Aslam, while now entangled in a legal fight with the contractor for compensation and hospital bills, is worried about finding work. “It has been a year and I haven’t been able to find any work. We have exhausted all our savings. I have a wife and two kids, the youngest being 8-months-old. I want to be compensated. The accident was the contractor’s fault,” he said. The case is ongoing in the labour court.

Aslam Nagori

A survey by the NGO Aajeevika Bureau covering 95 workers employed in large-sized factories situated in Narol revealed irregularities in safety measures provided to contractual workers. The findings revealed that employers abstain from engaging in routine safety hazards faced by workers and were more concerned with maximising profit margins through manipulating maximum labour.

“Mechanisms such as the Safety Committee that involve worker representation in the identification of hazards, formulation of safety policies etc does not ensure representation of contractual or casually engaged workers,” the report read.

Aajeevika Bureau Press Conference

Bhanu Pratap Singh (29) is tired of the impending court hearings, always delayed at the last hour. A migrant of Uttar Pradesh, Bhanu lost all the fingers of his left hand while working at a factory near Jagdish Udyog Phase-4. He had gloves on, but other than that no safety gear was made available to him for running the machine. “I lost consciousness and was taken to the hospital. When I woke up, all my fingers were gone,” he said. Bhanu was around 21 when the incident occurred. He has been unemployed ever since. It has been 8 years since he had filed a complaint with the police, which later went to court. The hearing has been ongoing for 7 years now.

“Nobody is ready to employ. The contractor does not turn up for hearings. I, on the other hand, have to come back from UP for each hearing. I am unemployed. The ticket cost alone is a burden,” he said.
Bhanu will need Rs 1.5 to Rs 2 lakh for further treatment, but doctors say his left hand will largely remain non-functional. “I am fighting for compensation as the accident occurred due to my contractor’s and the company’s manager’s negligence,” he said.

Advocate Ranjit Kori, who knows about Bhanu’s case, said that while labour courts take time, there is a 99% chance of Bhanu getting the desired compensation and his managers facing the action of law. “He is very patient and ready to fight. He is tired, but he is aware he has been wronged and continues to seek justice,” Kori said, adding that they had been demanding social security cover for all the workers who have faced the safe fate as Bhanu.

Bhanu Pratap

The survey conducted by Aajevika Bureau states that out of the 95 interviewed workers, 83% do not have any social security cover. Only 17% of the workers reported deductions towards PF and ESI. “No social security cover is the larger trend now. A vast majority of workers are hired on a contractual basis or casually engaged on verbal terms without any written agreements. In the court of law, the first fight is to prove that the worker actually worked for any contractor or company,” Kori said. 

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