Research and Programming on Migrant Workers in India’s Construction Sector
October 4, 2021
Construction is the second largest industry in India, responsible for an estimated 60 million jobs. Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was also one of its fastest growing sectors. In response to the significant demand for construction labor in major cities, millions of rural workers migrate seasonally to India’s urban centers to help address the shortfall of jobs.
Currently, migrant construction workers face several risks. They often lack networks of support at destination sites and are preyed upon by intermediary agents who routinely charge workers recruitment fees or a percentage of wages in recurring commission. Those workers who are able to bypass this broker system often still need to take advances or loans from either employers or private money lenders to cover their migration costs, generating debt burdens that leave them vulnerable to a range of labor abuses. These risks are exacerbated by the nature of the construction industry itself – a sector that is characterized by a high degree of informality and multi-layered supply chains that readily obscure exploitation.
Coupled with this, workers in this labor market are typically members of already vulnerable populations, deepening forced labor risks in the construction industry. While the Indian government has put in place a number of welfare schemes targeted at these workers, there is a general lack of awareness among migrant workers of existing benefit and entitlement programs, and further, as informal workers, the majority lack the necessary documentation required to access them. Most are also unaware of remediation options should they need to file a grievance or report workplace exploitation.
The findings in this brief represent evidence and inputs gathered directly from migrant construction workers, their family
members, micro-contractors, and other construction industry stakeholders. These consolidated insights shed light on
vulnerabilities specific to migrant workers in India’s construction sector, existing gaps in current worker-focused policies and
service delivery, and the viability of selected intervention models aimed at improving labor practices and outcomes for
workers. Drawing on these learnings, this report includes recommendation to inform action at various levels to ensure
the safety and protection of migrant construction workers.