If medals are being given out for backbreaking labor on miserable wages and impossible working conditions, thousands of migrant workers, slaving to complete stadium and other facilities for the October Commonwealth Games in the Indian capital, will be the champions.
The majority of the estimated 17,000 employees working on games sites are migrants from India's poorest states, who have moved into the city in search of work. It is understood the workers are living in highly dangerous and shocking conditions. They receive less than the stipulated wage and have no access to even the most basic sanitation and health facilities. Their employers do not provide them with the necessary safety equipment.
Two thousand boys, between 14 and 16, are also work on the game sites, in gross infringement of labor laws. The powers that be say it is not possible to keep the children off the work sites.
With such mega projects offering the opportunity for employment, millions of people stream into the city from the impoverished rural hinterland, only to be taken advantage of by greedy contractors. Dunu Roy, director of the non-government organization Hazard Centre, says the contractors have an arrangement with the authorities. "At least the Chinese had in place a welfare system. Here there is nothing, not even basic registration of workers, so that they are left to the mercy of contractors interested solely in maximizing their profits
Lakshmi, a woman worker from neighboring Rajasthan state, took a slight pause from moving bricks piled on her head, to say that she gets paid about half the promised amount of 200 rupees (4.29 U.S. dollars) per day. “My husband is paid slightly more, but we do not protest because there is no work in the fields back home’ she said as a minder shooed her back to work.
Her two-year-old daughter plays happily among concrete mixers, compressors and cranes, remaining at Lakshmi’s side as she works, as the contractors have made no provision for the worker’s children. After a hard day’s work, Lakshmi goes back ‘home’ to a small tin shack and prepares a meal over a smoky, open fire with scraps of whatever burnable material she can manage to find.
“Workers reported that 70 to 200 laborers have died at this site [main venue] due to work-related mishaps. Union representatives, however, said that there have been about 20 fatal accidents, a much lower number but nevertheless an alarming one
The court was told, “Many deaths are occurring but go unrecorded The ‘Indian Express’ daily reported on Mar. 9, 2009, that workers at the main Games venue had been unpaid since December 2008 and that payments were erratic. The responsibility was being laid on subcontractors.
The hidden cost of the Indian games will go down in history as the worst on record. News magazine Outlook reported recently “It is estimated the city will have around three million homeless people as a result of the games