Chennai / Bangalore: CheMovement for Alternatives and Youth Awareness (MAYA), a Bangalore-based non-governmental organization (NGO) that has brought together construction workers in a cooperative called LabourNet, plans to spin it off into a profit-making venture in an effort to scale up operations across the country and tap into a boom in the infrastructure and construction businesses.
Labour-friendly: A file picture of workers at the Bangalore International Airport in Devanahalli. LabourNet, formed by MAYA, in an attempt to help labourers earn better wages, has around 4,000 labourers in its network in Karnataka’s capital.
LabourNet was formed by MAYA in an attempt to help labourers earn better wages, provide them accident and health insurance, and train them. It has around 4,000 labourers in its network in Bangalore.
MAYA is in talks with other NGOs which will be involved in the initiative either as stakeholders or partners to replicate its Bangalore network in other parts of the country. The NGO claims this will create a pan-India network and database of the unorganized labour force in the construction industry.
“If we function as an NGO, it might be difficult to scale up and moreover, we might not be taken seriously,” says J.G. Rajesh, who works as a coordinator at LabourNet. “But, discussions are on and we are still working on various possibilities.”
At the level of unskilled, and some times, even skilled labourers, the construction business is unorganized. Workers, especially unskilled ones, are usually rural migrants. And most of the workers engaged by construction firms are daily wage labourers who are not eligible for any form of social security or insurance.
LabourNet hopes to make money by charging labour co-ordinators (or maistrys, as they are called) a charge to enrol themselves with the network and by also charging users of the network. The labour coordinators currently pay a membership fee of Rs100. Currently, users do not pay anything. Formed four years ago, LabourNet started off as a platform between the informal workforce of the construction industry and contractors, builders and architects. It acts as an information exchange between the various players in the construction market and keeps up-to-date records of labour coordinators, who are registered with it. The NGO will soon upload the database on the Web for its members to access it online.
Thirty-year-old Richard Naveen is one labour coordinator who has taken advantage of the services being offered by LabourNet. A resident of Benson Town in Bangalore, he began working with some painters and polishers near his house. He now runs a team of 10-15 regular painters, and has a pool of 20-25 people working with him. “I don’t need to look for clients now and can concentrate on my work,” says Naveen, who has been with LabourNet for a year now. “They help us with information, and sometimes training too.”
To provide social security to the workers, LabourNet says it is in talks with a private insurance company and an NGO called Healing Fields to design a medical insurance product exclusively for the migrant workers.
Muthu, 26, a labour contractor and mason, is a resident of Mangammanapalya in Bangalore and has been with LabourNet for more than three years. He employs around seven other masons. “Not only do they (LabourNet) let us know about new contracts, they also help us in negotiating quotations sometimes. More importantly, they help us pay hospital bills,” if there is an accident, adds Muthu who uses only one name. Muthu has taken out an accident insurance policy for some of his workers through LabourNet at an annual cost of around Rs420 per employee.
Rajesh says that LabourNet is in talks with two to three institutions for training, assessment and certification of workers but would not name these.
The NGO, plans to create individual profiles for workers on its database including details of the training programmes they have gone through and the projects they have worked on.