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Norms, Standards

January 31st, 2008

Yesterday we visited an organization that registers construction workers. It creates a database of the workers. It is a mediating agency that puts the construction workers on jobs with companies/projects requiring workers specific skills. The organization acts as a mediator. It  registers construction workers, provides them with accident and family insurance, and organizes some skill trainings for them. It does some amount of dispute settlement. i.e., if there is a problem between the workers and the builders or the other way round, it tries to pacify the parties.

What was interesting was the approach of the organization. It has so far found it difficult to register migrant workers because migrant workers are least likely to have address proof. The workers themselves are reluctant to get themselves registered, particularly the women workers. So the organization approaches the builders, telling the builders that it will provide Provident Fund (PF) facilities. Hence, the builder “must get” his workers registered with them. I found this irritatingly fascinating. Here is a NGO that claims to work in the interests of the workers but because the workers are uninterested, for legitimate reasons (including not wanting to be on a database lest they come in the eyes of the state for all the possible alleged reasons), to get themselves registered, it invariably ends up using force. Is control so inherent?

Then we are told that construction workers in certain states in India are politically powerful and also these workers don’t work as hard as the migrant workers do. This organization believes that migrant workers suffer at the expense of the politically established, “lazy”, home state workers. Creating an identity card for the construction workers and a nation-wide database with call center facilities will enable the workers to get work in whichever part of the country they may move to, the workers will work “hard”. Then we are told how a state like Kerela has made a choice not to have industry and to benefit from the remittances of those working in the Middle East and Gulf States. By not having industry, the Kerela state government is doing something very wrong! And we asked, what is wrong if you choose not to have industrialization? Who defines that development must be carried out only in one way? Who decides and defines what constitutes development? What if people are not interested in working? Does that automatically mean that people are lazy? Can’t people choose consciously that they don’t want to work and there is nothing wrong in not wanting to work? Is work the only way in which we can categorize people as hard-working, lazy, unintelligent, etc.?

I came out of the meeting asking myself whether control is inherent in us? Like this organization, that believes it is working for construction workers’ interests and is inherently controlling?

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