Indian unions ensure justice to killed brick kiln workers

Different Indian trade unions swiftly responded to a worksite accident that tragically killed two young women migrant workers at a brick kiln in the Tamil Nadu State on 3 June. 

Pramila Chandi (18 years old) and Madanabati Chandi (22 years old) both from Kalahandi District, Odisha State died on the spot after they figured in an accident while unloading bricks from a truck at the M/S K.N.R Bricks (brick kiln), Tiruvallur District. 

The area where the accident happened is home to around 500 brick kilns with an estimated 40,000 migrant workers employed. The killed workers were part of a group of migrant workers who were recruited from the Kalahandi District in Odisha State where their families were paid an advance of INR 30,000 (USD 400). 

The BWI South Asia Office, upon learning of the accident, informed affiliate unions who immediately took action. In the Odisha State where the victims were from, the Indian National Building Construction, Forest & Wood Workers’ Federation (INBCWWF) approached the families of the victims, urged the Department of Labour to look into the accident and facilitated the release of financial relief from the Odisha Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board (BOCW). The union said that the Kalahandi District Labour Officer in Odisha State submitted a preliminary enquiry report on the accident and the victims’ families were extended cash assistance in order to perform last rites. 

In the Tamil Nadu State, the Thamizhaga Kattida Thozhilalargal Mathiya Sangam (TKTMS) immediately visited the worksite and coordinated with the labour department. It also called on the Brick Kiln Owners’ Association to financially compensate the victims’ families and for the BOCW to do the same regardless if the killed workers were registered or not.  As a result, the brick kiln owners’ association in the Tiruvallur District convened an urgent meeting where the involved employer agreed to provide INR 450000 (USD 5,955) to each family as compensation and part of group insurance coverage. The union also called on the BOCW to ensure that all workers are duly registered to have access to benefits and employers to put in place measures to prevent similar accidents from happening in the future. Meanwhile, the Inspectorate of Factories waits for the detailed report of the accident as mandated by the Factories Act of 1948.

INBCWWF and Indian National Trade Union Centre (INTUC-Odisha) President Dr. R.C. Khuntia lauded the collaboration between his union and TKTMS. 

“We thank TKTMS President Ponkumar for joining us in responding to this unfortunate accident where two young migrant workers lost their lives due to poor occupational health and safety (OHS) safeguards. The district administration is currently carrying out safety audits at all brick kilns which we hope will lead to the strengthening of OHS safeguards to prevent future accidents. The INBCWWF-TKTMS collaboration across two states sets an example how partnerships and collective work can effectively resolve workers’ issues, especially in brick kilns that employ large proportion of migrant workers,” Khuntia said.   

In India, brick-making is largely confined to rural and peri-urban areas. About 40 to 60 percent of the workforce at the brick kilns are migrant workers. Traditional technology is used and workers are paid on piece-rate basis. Poor living and working conditions, lack of social security coverage and inadequate occupational health and safety provisions are often a cause of great concern at many of the brick kilns. It is estimated that there are more than 60,000 brick kilns employing nearly 12 million workers in India.