Gender disparity, pay gap hard truths of construction industry in Nagaland
Henlly Phom Odyuo
Dimapur, Sep. 25 (EMN): Asymmetries abound in India’s labour market with numerous factors preventing women from entering, remaining and progressing in this field of work.
The gap is amplified when it comes to work related to labour as most women come from poor economic background with little or no education and skills.
‘Gender gap in payment and bias in the construction industry is confusing because women are very few in the construction workforce, and most of them are unskilled and untrained, but are forced to join the labour force because of economic constraints, which means we are contributing to the family’s income’, Aliya, a labourer, told Eastern Mirror.
Most women, she said, are employed for menial work and paid lesser than men, even if they work from dawn to dusk.
Aaliya said women are mostly unskilled and have different needs and challenges compared to male workers. ‘As if that was not enough, we are paid less, discriminated on the grounds that we are weak because we are women at the workplace’, she expressed.
A group of women, who were at a construction site of a commercial building project in Dimapur, agreed that women labourers were often paid less than men while they were mostly engaged for roof slab construction work.
A male labourer at the site, meanwhile, said that men are paid more as their work involves ‘more labour’.
‘We work from sunrise to sunset with a break for lunch. We do the same work as men– carry the stone chips, sands and bricks on our head, do the shoveling of the sand and the stone chips working with same pace as the men. It is tougher for women who bring their young children at the work site as they cannot take breaks in between to take care of the dependent child. If they do so, they are lectured and some even verbally abused”, they shared.
Women labourers in Dimapur are reportedly getting paid INR 250 rupees a day, compared to INR 450 for men for the same work.
For 32-year-old Shazia, she got into construction work to support her family. A mother of three children, she is neither discontented nor happy to be working as a labourer, as at the end of the day, she is able to help her family.
‘To be working under the sun or during rough weather is better than to be sitting at home and worrying over what to eat’, she said.
Another worker, Sunni, pointed out that they are not supported to work outside of their home as they are considered to be unskilled and uneducated, but when it comes to construction works, they are compelled to work and contribute to the economy of the house.
In between breastfeeding her nine- month- old daughter, Sunni said she has to bring her daughter to work as there will be no one to look after her.
According to an official from the Labour department, there are many Naga women who are also engaged in the construction sector, especially in rural areas, mostly working at stone quarries and engaged as daily wage workers.
Workers unaware of labour, employment laws
According to the Labour official, “as per the Labour and Employment laws in India, every worker irrespective of gender is entitled the same wage amount although there is a difference for skilled and unskilled workers. Even the insurance amount is the same for both men and women”.
However, almost all workers are not aware of this entitlement and women are generally exploited, while contractors follow the random market rate, he said.
‘If a woman falls sick, instead of providing aid or compensation we are told not to come to work so we cannot even afford to fall sick if we are in dire need of money’, a Naga woman labourer rued.
‘I used to work at a stone quarry site in my hometown breaking the rocks with just a hammer from sunrise to sunset for meagre amount. Not happy with the way we are paid, I came to Dimapur in search of a better opportunity. My neighbours were involved in floor installation work and that was how I learned the work. But most people do not hire me as they do not trust my work’, she said.
Another challenge faced by the women is migration from one place to another with their husband for construction work. With no permanent place of work or a decent place to stay, it is not easy for women to migrate and live in groups, especially in temporary makeshift homes.
‘We move in groups wherever we find work. It is harder for families with children. We have no option but to migrate as it is better to stay as a family and work together. But it becomes harder for women when we have to live in a makeshift house or at the construction site crowded, vulnerable to the surrounding and worries for our children when we are busy working’, asserted Aaliya.
When asked about their daily activities, she responded that while men have to just eat and work, a woman’s day starts with cleaning the night’s utensils in the morning, preparing breakfast, feed the men and children, feeding themselves, cleaning them and leaving for their days’ work.
Even at work, the women have to cook lunch, clean them and work at the same time.
“We all work together at the construction site with an added responsibility over women to cook and clean in between but we are verbally abused for the taste of the food”, she said.
When asked if they are aware of any welfare schemes available for them, including maternity benefits or registration of workers, they responded: ‘We are uneducated so how can we know of all these’.
This story is the second in a series of reports on the construction sector in Nagaland as part of the Kohima Press Club- Nagaland Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Board (KPC-NBOCWWB) Media Fellowship 2022.