By Prayas Centre for Labour Research and Action Brick kiln workers constitute a large section of the workers in the unorganized sector. They are seasonal migrants recruited through labour contractors from some of the poorest pockets of India. Workers a …

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By Prayas Centre for Labour Research and Action

Brick kiln workers constitute a large section of the workers in the unorganized sector. They are seasonal migrants recruited through labour contractors from some of the poorest pockets of India. Workers are recruited against monetary advance by labour contractors; known variously as sirdars, mukaddams, thekedars; who traffic them to far off location all over India. Whole families migrate including children and women.

The workers are only paid a food allowance at the work sites. This is linked to their daily production with the result that the whole family, including children, have to work for 12 to 16 hours a day to earn enough to eat. Most workers return famished to their homes with empty pockets to recuperate their strength for another season of back breaking labour. The conditions of work prevalent fall under the category of bonded labour.

This is borne out by the large number of cases of bondage reported from brick kilns (Annexure 1 – Bondage in brick kilns as evidenced by workers released from bondage including both groups those (i) who have got release certificates and (ii) who have not got release certificates, media reports). It can be safely said that brick kiln workers constitute the majority of workers working under bondage in the country.

The root cause of bondage in brick kilns lies in low wage rates. While wages are low across the unorganised sector in the country, these are abysmally low in brick kiln sector. Wages are so low that there has been no mechanisation in the industry. Investment in machinery is not remunerative because of low wages (reference to be cited). One major reason for the wages remaining low is the piece rate system of payment.

While most of the state Minimum Wage notifications stipulate a certain per day wage rate for eight hours of work, in practice workers everywhere are paid at piece rates. This is set at such low levels that workers are forced to work for 12 to 16 hours a day and even deploy their children. Some of the states like AP and Gujarat have notified piece rate as part of the minimum wage notification for brick kiln industry. However in these states, the piece rate is set at very low levels. There is no scientific study establishing the number of bricks that can be made by an able bodied person in an eight hour work day.

This note looks at statutory minimum wages in different states and compares it with the actual wages accruing to the workers. The actual wages accruing to the workers are calculated on the basis of case histories of groups of workers for whole season of work – the number of workers, the days put in by them during the season, and the prevalent market wage rates. Brick kiln work involves different type of work and wage rates for each category are different. The analysis here is done only for brick makers (called paatla, pathera) who comprise up to two thirds of the workforce. This is also the most exploited category of workers.

The table below analyses the wages accruing to the workers and compares it with the statutory minimum wage rates. The table shows that in none of the state, workers are getting minimum wages. The variance ranges from 14 percent in Gujarat to 33 percent in AP.

Table: Wages accrued to brick kiln workers in different states and comparison with minimum wages. Wages per 1000 bricks.

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 Coupled with the fact that minimum wage are set at very basic levels, the high variance reveals the true story behind extreme exploitation of brick kiln workers and their continued bondage. What needs to be emphasised that even for earning this level of wages, the workers have to put in 12 to 16 hours of work. The statutory minimum wages are set for eight hours of work. If the adjustment is done assuming that actual hours of work are 12, then the variance will range from 42 percent to 55 percent.


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