February 20, 2007

The Mysore labour crunch

After reading the story in The Hindu any passing motorcyclist in dark glasses sets me thinking if he has been responsible for holding up building work somewhere in the city. For Mr A Ravindra, a builder with many ongoing projects, is quoted as saying that many of his workers, in recent weeks and months, had stopped work, only to show up a couple of weeks later “on a motorbike, wearing dark glasses and flaunt their new-found prosperity”.

Local construction workers, they say, come from families that own farmland on the city outskirts. With a phenomenal rise in the price of agriculture land (an acre can fetch anything from Rs.30 to 90 lakhs) quite a few construction workers have made a minor fortune by disposing of their land. Another factor citied by employers facing a ‘high rate’ of attrition in the last couple of months is that many of those working on construction sites have found better paid work with local IT companies, as gardeners, sweepers and caretakers.

The labour scenario in the building projects reflects vertical mobility of unskilled labour. It is an upshot of the very economic factors that have enriched builders and land speculators. Have these beneficiaries passed on the benefits of the building boom to their labour force by giving their workers a fair hike in wages and improving their working conditions?

Big builders have resorted to ‘import’ of workers from other parts of the state and the country. Maybe a time would come when they would think of making labour a stakeholder, entitled to dividend, in the projects the builders take up.

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