Bengaluru’s Labour Stands present a highly exploitative and informal hiring market

Labour stands are largely unknown to most Bengalureans, but these are the spaces where unskilled labourers seek daily wage jobs to survive in the city.

If one makes an early morning tour of areas like Lingarajapuram, Chikka Banaswadi, Kullapa Circle, Papareddy Palya, Kurubarahalli, Rajagopal Nagar, Peenya and Dasarahalli, they are likely to see groups of workers carrying construction tools and lunch boxes waiting on the roads and side streets, their eyes eagerly scanning the road  for contractors who will hire them as daily wage labourers. These spaces where the workers congregate every morning are known as Labour Stands and are an ubiquitous sight in many Indian cities.

Many such labour stands exist in Bengaluru, yet few outside the world of contractors know about them. How do these places function? Who are these workers? Who are the people who hire them?

An unpublished report by IIHS and Aajeevika Bureau, “Mapping and documenting the labour stands in the East zone of Bengaluru” has documented some of these labour stands.

How the system works

The labour stand, generally situated next to bus stands and auto stands, is an informal space that serves as a platform for unskilled labourers to seek daily wage jobs in the city.  Recruitment of workers from labour stands is primarily done for small public and private construction works.

So how does the system work. One worker explained this to India Labour Line, a service for informal labourers run by Ajeevika Bureau and Working People’s Coalition.“We are here from 7am and wait till 10am. Contractors or individuals come to the labour stands to hire workers. We go with them after  fixing the wage. Many times we do not know anything about the employers.”

Such labour stands have been there for years. But it is difficult to track down their history as no data on them exists. The recruitment facilitated at the labour stands is typically  construction work which is the country’s second-largest employment sector

Most workers at the stands are unskilled who do not get regular work on big construction sites. They are primarily hired for daily casual work, though at times they do get  hired for longer duration up to a week. Skilled workers such as painters, masons, marble workers also get hired from labour stands. 

Read more: Opinion: Contract workers in PSUs–marginalised castes, women, main victims of discrimination

Construction workers at the labour stands are predominantly migrant workers who constitute about 50% of the total population of Bengaluru city. Most migrant workers from within the state hail from Raichur, Yaadgir and Gulbarga districts. While bulk of workers from outside the state are from Bihar, UP, Rajasthan and West Bengal. The social profile of these workers is very low, which adds to their vulnerability and often leads to their exploitation.

The demographics

A majority of the workers at these stands hail from the Kalyana Karnataka districts, comprising Yadgir, Kalaburagi, Koppal, Raichur, Bidar and Bellary, which area mong the most backward districts in the state. They mostly belong to castes like like  Holeya (SC), Madiga (SC), Nayak (ST), and Kuruba (OBC).

Muniraju of India Labour Line says that 40-50% of complaints of not being paid the agreed upon wages are made by workers belonging to SC, 30-40% from OBC, and about 20% from ST. These workers hold very little land in their home villages and are compelled to migrate to Bengaluru for work. The low socio-economic profile of the workers exposes them to multiple challenges related to living a dignified survival in the city.

According to the IIHS-Ajeevika Bureau report, while the age of workers at these stands varies from 20-60, the average age is 33. Barely 5-10% of them are women.

The size of the labour stands vary from 10–200 workers. They can be divided into three categories, small (up to 50 workers), medium (50-100) and large (more than 100). Labour stands such as in Lingarajapuram, Chikka Banaswadi, and Kullapa Circle in the east zone are large ones.

Construction workers boarding a truck at a labour stand
Construction workers boarding a truck at a labour stand after getting hired. Pic Credit: Muthu

The maximum numbers are seen on Mondays as the chances of getting hired for week-long assignments are high. “Some contractors and masons take workers on a full week’s contract, and often to long-distance places” said a worker from Kullupa Circle.

Workers start assembling from early morning, the timings of each labour stand might differ depending on when hiring is at its peak at that stand which could be anywhere from 8 to 9:30am and end by 11 or 12pm. Getting hired is purely a matter of chance and the unlucky ones keep returning every day.

The wage component is an important element at the labour stands. Since the work is not regular the wage rate at the labour stands is generally higher than the legal minimum wage. For example, the legal wage for an unskilled construction worker is Rs 385  per day in Bengaluru but at the labour stands, it ranges from 700-900 rupees a day for men. The  wage difference is justified by the irregularity in terms of getting jobs.

“The wage differences are highly unequal when it comes to the female workers,” says Gayathri Raghu Kumar of India Labour Line, a national helpline project for the informal workers. “For unskilled work, women get only Rs 500 a day which is blatant gender discrimination.”

The importance of labour stands 

The importance of these labour stands is that it provides arriving migrant workers a space for finding jobs in the city.  For many, it is the only way to survive. The other important aspect is that they provide flexibility to workers. Anyone, with or without skills, can get hired for the short term at these stands.

Read more: Post-pandemic labour market: Fewer women getting work

Even though the nature of work is highly informal and discriminatory and offers no social security, it enables a livelihood for these migrant workers.. For many unemployed single women migrants, this is the only way to survive in the city. 

Bengaluru’s labour stands are no doubt a good economic platform, but its nature is highly informal, which brings many risks of exploitation. “Many times the workers are not paid due wages or discriminated on various grounds by employers,” says Muniraju coordinator from India Labour Line. 

The desperate need to find a job trumps the challenge of waiting for hours at the labour stands which have no civic facilities. Even though local authorities and the labour department are aware of these informal spaces, they have done nothing to make the workers’ wait somewhat comfortable.

The author would like to acknowledge Shravani, Muthu and Mathews, who have conducted the pilot study for mapping the labour stands in the east zone of Bengaluru, and Muniraju, Francis and Gayathri from India Labour Line for their inputs.

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