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Vivek Gadhe, Head-Construction (Affordable Housing), Rustomjee Group
Vivek Gadhe writes on construction site workers’ welfare during the lockdown
The COVID-19 crisis has hit the entire globe and indeed every country is reeling under its blow. While our country has managed to keep the spread of the Coronavirus to a minimum, we still have a long way to go before we are completely in the clear. Meanwhile, practically every sector in the Indian economy is bearing the brunt of the lockdown. With production, manufacturing and construction sectors at a virtual standstill, concern is rife about when and how these sectors will recover. More importantly, the crisis has brought to the fore the plight of migrant workers and the fact that their very survival is threatened when their daily wage is at stake.
The real estate sector is the second largest employer in the country after agriculture. Indeed, when it comes to employing labour, many of them find work in construction projects in the cities. The realty sector has been dealt a heavy blow with lockdown bringing all construction to a halt. Moreover, sales, which hitherto have been lackluster, especially for luxury projects, have also been majorly affected. A fall in demand for residential properties and rental of commercial property has been the immediate fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. The sector will have to struggle to rally from this setback in the long term and should be able to with support from the government.
In the meantime, the developers need to step up and take responsibility for the welfare of the construction workers who are dependent on them for their livelihood. It is not only a financial crisis for them – separated from their families with no way to go back home, these workers are at the end of their tether. Their desperation was witnessed by the country when, based on a rumour, these workers had gathered at a railway station in their thousands, hoping to catch a train back home. It is imperative, that not just the government, but the developers and contractors that hire these workers provide for the safety and health of the workers in their employ.
To ensure proper health and welfare of the construction site workers it is necessary to provide them with proper food, shelter, water, medicines and sanitation facilities. In addition, builders’ associations have taken a decision to continue paying workers during this period, despite work being at a standstill. There are several other measures that will go a long way in making the life of the migrant construction workers easier during these difficult times. These include, disinfecting the camp or area where labourers are housed, and providing good and hygiene shelters for the laborers working at the site. Infrared (IR) thermometer guns for frequent checkups and creation of hand washing stations with sanitizers near the camp can be done.
Medical checkups of the entire labor workforce are also imperative to ensure proper health of each and every labor and to stop the spread of the virus. Arrangements need to made to provide for food and/or groceries to the labourers so that they do not need to move about to ‘forage’ for food. Safe, potable water and 24 x 7 electricity is another provision that is essential in the labour camps. Workers need to be educated about the grave consequences of COVID-19 and how they can protect themselves with the use of alcohol-based sanitizers, face masks and practicing social distancing. Developers also need to be the medium through which workers are informed of government initiatives for their welfare and that they are given verified and genuine updates on the current status of the lockdown and the spread of the pandemic. Keeping the spirits of the workers high and keeping them motivated is a big part of ensuring their welfare.
These measures are the only way to ensure that the workers don’t try to make their way back home – some of them even struggling to walk across state borders – maintain the sanctity of the lockdown and finally triumph over the coronavirus pandemic!
About the Author:
Vivek Gadhe is Head-Construction (Affordable Housing), Rustomjee Group.