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Migrant workers dominating Nagaland’s construction industry

By Henlly Phom Odyuo Updated: Sep 18, 2022 9:56 pm

‘Nagas are seasonal workers and do not want to do physical labour’

Nagaland Migrant workers
Construction workers seen at work on a rainy day in Dimapur. (EM Images)

Henlly Phom Odyuo
Dimapur, Sep. 18 (EMN): Movement of labourers from rural to urban areas has continuously amplified due to growth in various sectors and infrastructural development in the urban areas but the migration of labourers is the highest in the construction sector and most of the employment in this sector is fed by migrant labourers.

The construction industry, which is an important pointer for development as well as employment opportunity is, however, fragmented and unorganised in Nagaland.

On the other hand, the construction industry in the state is mostly dominated by the non-locals or otherwise the non-Nagas.

34-year-old Jasim Uddin, a resident of Khatkati in Assam, has been working in the construction industry for the last 19 years in Nagaland.  In the middle of his work at a construction site in Dimapur, Jasim showed his identity card of the All Karbi Anglong Building and Other Construction Workers Union (AABOCWU), to Eastern Mirror, which had the designation ‘labourer’ written on it.

Ironically, he has never worked in Assam as a labourer but has worked in several areas in Dimapur and Ghaspani.

Originally from Hojai district in Assam, he started as a construction worker in 2004 as a manual labourer in Dimapur. Luck favoured him in 2019 when his supervisor could not devote time to the project they were working on and asked him to be the ‘supervisor’.

That was when he started working as a supervisor and has so far built three houses under this new role.

“I hire eight people to work with me and I hire only those that I know as I do not want to risk hiring workers unknown to me. Some workers disappear after payment before the completion of a project so to avoid that risk I work with the same people and all of them are from Assam”, he acknowledged.  

Their ID card is submitted to the owner of a project prior to starting work but he admitted that in urban areas, especially in Dimapur, ‘almost all the owners do not ask for their ID card or bother to check them as their only concern is with the work and not their identity; also most of them are familiar with each other so no one is bothered to do a background check’, he said.

When asked about the involvement of Naga workers in the construction sector, he said since the construction sector involves physical labour and dedication, ‘most of the Nagas are not willing to work in this sector’.

‘Even if they are good they are lackadaisical and not willing to work for the whole year’, he pointed out.

Construction workers Farooq, Sanjay and Ajay, who were working at a commercial building site on a Sunday afternoon, said they were hired from Guwahati for their current project in Dimapur.

Conversing in Nagamese and Hindi, they said for most of the big commercial buildings, construction workers –for infrastructure, floor installation, painters, plumbers to name a few — are hired from ‘outside’ on most occasions. Their rates are also higher than the workers for ‘domestic houses’.       

The manual labourers earn about INR 450 per day while the supervisor takes a share of INR 600 per day for domestic houses while working for nine hours a day.

However, this is a rough approximation as the market rate varies, and rate for commercial buildings is also different.

Floor installation labourers, painters, electricians, plumbers, carpenters are dominated by  migrant workers  and this long-distance migration appears to be common in the construction sector, especially in the urban destinations of  Dimapur and Kohima, Lipong Longchar; labour inspector, Labour department pointed out to Eastern Mirror.

Registration of workers

Longchar said that in Nagaland, the actual construction workers do not get registered with the department mostly because of lack of awareness.

‘Although there was no registration process since 2021, most of the construction workers registered are Nagas but in actuality, they are not in the construction sector and the genuine workers do not turn up for registration.

‘Nagas are seasonal workers while the non-Nagas work throughout the year, which is why there are more non-Naga workers in the state. There are prominent shortcomings in implementation, especially registration of workers and even the union do not show interest in registration; also it is not easy to identify who are the illegal immigrant workers as everyone possesses aadhaar card, and with the aadhaar card, we cannot turn away anyone who wishes to register’, he acknowledged.

According to the labour inspector, except for Zunheboto, Mokokchung and Mon districts where most of the construction workers are Nagas, other districts like Dimapur, Kohima, Wokha, Longleng, Tuensang, Phek, Peren and Kiphire are dominated by non-Nagas who travel long distances in search of employment. Among these districts, Dimapur and Kohima, considered as urban, have the highest non-Naga and non-resident construction workers.

He also informed that the first phase of the filtration process of construction workers was underway but since most of the registered Nagas workers are employed as ‘government servants, businessmen to name a few, the genuine workers are left out’.   

‘Spiral arrangement’

During a conversation with a group of workers, it was revealed that construction works among the non-Nagas was a ‘spiral arrangement’.

From the supervisor to the plumber, they work as a group and recommend each other to the project owner –rent a place or stay at the construction site together. In between, they search for new projects or recommend each other if one finds a project. If there is a shortage of workers, they call a few of them from their hometown and that is how the influx of migrant workers takes place.

An electrician admitted that he has been working in Dimapur for more than three decades and is presently working at a private firm while also juggling between private homes, which are under construction.

The workers acknowledged that language barrier does not cause any problem, and admitted that it is not easy to have a Naga worker working with them because of their ‘laid-back attitude’ although there are few who are skilled in carpentry works.

(This story is the first in a series of reports on the construction sector in Nagaland as part of the Kohima Press Club and and Nagaland Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board (KPC-NBOCWWB) media fellowship.)

By Henlly Phom Odyuo Updated: Sep 18, 2022 9:56:17 pm