May 1st might be Labour Day, but it still isn’t a holiday for most daily wage workers. These labourers work relentlessly, no matter what day it is, as they don’t have a choice. I spoke to Rakesh (name changed), a construction worker in an upcoming apartment in Bengaluru, on Labour Day. He was extremely hesitant at first, as he believed he could lose his job. Finally, after a lot of convincing, here’s what I gathered.
Tell us about yourself. What is your name? Where are you from?
My name is Rakesh (name changed). I have come to work here in Bengaluru. My family lives in in a small town called Balasori, which is in Odisha. I am about 24 years old now.
Are you married?
No, not yet. But my parents are looking for a bride as we speak.
That is great. How do you manage the finances?
We are a family of four; we are two sons to our parents. My father was a farmer at a farm, but after arthritis, his body gave up . My mother still works in the same farm, and my brother works on this plot with me. He is 3 years younger to me. We earn about 17,000-25,000 in total every month, and we send a part of it back to the town.
Why are you working here? Did you work anywhere else before?
I have been working as a labourer for as long as I can remember. Till the age 17 I worked in Odisha, but the relatives told me that Bengaluru contractors pay well. So my brother and I moved here. We used to live in the slums near Bilekahalli, but due to this new project, right now, we are living right across the property.
It is Labour Day today. Most people have the day off. How does that make you feel? Do you feel like taking a leave sometimes?
Hmmm. I understand that it is a holiday, but I really don’t want one. Every rupee counts, and I’m not willing to take a holiday. I work on Diwali, Holi, Christmas, the whole deal. Then why wouldn’t I work on Labour Day! *chuckles* Sometimes I wish, we workers had paid holidays.
Do you face any challenges?
Yes. Sometimes we have projects under contractors that last for months, in which case it is fine. But apart from that, we need to find an employer in the mornings, since we work for daily wage. We are frequently laid off without notice and the money is not consistent.
Do you think your work affects your health? Does your employer provide health insurance?
Sir, I barely know what insurance means. These contractors are just looking for cheap labour, and they will choose whoever asks for lowest salary. My health does get affected. Bruises and scrapes have become a ritual, but mostly it is severe exhaustion and working in the scorching heat that really affects people like us. It is a demanding profession, and we have no way of getting out of it.