Mine workers and their predicament in India

India’s major quarries are spread over the states of Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh. Almost everywhere they are worked by internal migrant labour—people forced by poverty, drought, famine, or failed crops to take up this hardest possible employment opportunity. In Rajasthan alone, there are 2.5 million mine workers employed in over 30,000 small and large mines. Ninety-eight percent of this workforce is tribal or dalit (belonging to the ‘untouchable’ class), which places them among the most marginalized of India’s poor, systematically deprived of their proper wages and state-sponsored welfare and social security schemes. The state of deprivation of mineworkers is obvious from various statistic and social indicators. The people of the mining villages receive no benefits and extremely low wages, wages that do not even match the government-approved minimum wage. This salary is merely a fraction of the market cost of the minerals which the labours extract. An adult male worker only receives Rs.70-120 ($1.46-2.50) per day, depending upon his skill, after 8-10 hours of gruelling work. Comparatively, the daily wage for a woman is Rs. 45-55 ($0.94-1.14), and a child receives Rs. 30-40 ($0.62-0.83) a day. The workers have no holidays, no weekly days off, any medical leave, and no maternity leave.

The Indian economy is characterized by a high level of informal or unorganized employment which comprises 93 percent of the country’s workforce. The term ‘unorganized labour’ is defined as workers who have been unable to organize themselves in the pursuit of common interests. Constraints include the casual nature of employment (often migratory), ignorance, illiteracy, the small and scattered size of work establishments, and extreme poverty leading to further exploitation by employers. The ‘highly distressed’ categories among them often become bonded labourers, migrant workers, or casual and contract labourers. MLPC carried out a survey in 2001 that revealed that 97% of workers in sandstone mines are indebted and a majority of them are in bondage. These debts are passed on from one family member to the other or from one generation to the next, and can even cause a worker to be sold to another contractor. Confirming this trend, a report from the ministry of labour, government of India, states that till March 31, 2004, the number of bonded labourers identified and released are 7488, among which 6331 are rehabilitated. (Feasibility Study for Setting Standards in Natural Stone Sector in Rajasthan; CEC and TdH; 2009)

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