Yellappa is among thousands of migrant workers who wait every morning at one of Bangalore's several labour stands to seek work from construction contractors. He is one of 56 million people employed in India's construction industry.
Nearly all of them are part of India's 411 million informal workers, who constitute over 90% of India’s workers. Not only do they not benefit from social security schemes such as employee state insurance and the provident fund, they are also not protected by the laws that regulate employment. Even after Independence, the large majority of Indian workers never benefited from the labour legislation of the twentieth century because they worked in small scale enterprises that were exempt from any obligations under those laws. Even for that narrow slice of India’s workforce to whom these laws apply, access to any mechanism that can provide redress for work-related grievances or hold employers accountable, is not guaranteed.
When Yellappa was not paid by his employer, he called 1-800-833-9020, the India Labour Line. It is a helpline that workers across India can call to receive counseling about any grievances in relation to their work, like unpaid wages or an uncompensated workplace accident. It was set up in the wake of the forced exodus of migrant informal workers from Indian cities following the sudden announcement of pandemic control measures in 2020. Aajeevika Bureau teamed up with the Working Peoples' Coalition to demonstrate that it is indeed possible to imagine a grievance redressal system that works for all workers.
On this episode of the Nagrik podcast, we learn about India Labour Line and Aajeevika Bureau’s Rajasthan-based labour helpline on which it is modeled, how the helplines operate to demonstrate a workable model of grievance redressal for workers, and about their objectives.
You will learn from:
Shreehari Paliath, Senior Policy Analyst, India Spend. Read his journalism and other stories at www.indiaspend.com. IndiaSpend is a public interest data-driven journalism non-profit.
Sushovan Dhar, director, India Labour Line
Sanotsh Poonia, programme manager leading Aajeevika Bureau’s legal aid work
Chandan Kumar, organising secretary, Working People’s Coalition
BBC News, “Coronavirus India: Death and despair as migrant workers flee cities”
Indian Express, “Explained: Indian Migrants, Across India”
Sumant Banerji, “A look inside one of the most unsafe workplaces”, Mint (Oct 11, 2022)
Ravi Ahuja, “A Beveridge Plan for India? Social Insurance and the Making of the Formal Sector”, IRSH 64 (2019), pp. 207-248
Aajeevika Bureau, “Unlocking the Urban: Reimagining Migrant Lives in Cities Post-Covid 19”, 2020
ICDD Interview Series, “The Informal Economy, Labour, and Collective Cooperation in India (with Pravin Sinha)”
Shreehari Paliath, “How A Labour Helpline Is Helping Informal Workers Recover Wages”, India Spend (Aug 3, 2022)
Press Release for the launch of India Labour Line