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Rain and price rise dampen Deepavali

Karthik Madhavan

Contractors do not hire construction workers as regularly as in the past

PHOTO: M.GOVARTHAN

Difficult times: Slump in building activity has resulted in some construction workers going without work for weeks together. —

ERODE: Every morning, R. Mariamma leaves home for work.

She pays Rs. 3.50 towards bus charge to reach Manikoondu, where she waits till a building contractor engages her for work.

If she gets work, the 40-year-old will return with Rs. 80; or else, wait till evening and spend another Rs. 3.50 to reach home.

Breadwinner

The R.N. Pudur resident, who carries sand, cement and bricks, has been doing this for the past 30 years. She is the breadwinner, as her two sons do not contribute to household expenditure.

In the past three weeks or so, her life has been different in that the mother of three has been unable to find work.

“I wait here from eight in the morning till about four in the evening and there has been hardly any work,” the woman rues.

Same is true of V. Lakshmi (62), B. Vijaya (40), and hundreds of women who wait at Manikoondu for work.

The men are no different either. A. Manoj, 40, says whenever he gets work he paints, else does odd job like repairing tiled roofs or thatched roofs.

He too has been waiting for about three weeks now at Manikoondu with little success. He says work is hard to come by.

“Because of rise in prices of construction materials, there is a slump in the industry,” he says and also blames rains for the further slowing down construction.

Without work, Mr. Manoj has hardly been taking home any money.

“I get Rs. 140 a day but in the past few days even half the money is hard to come by.”

His worry is to mobilise some money so that he can make Deepavali happen for his son, a sixth grader.

“He has already placed his demands, which I want to fulfil but do not know how.”

Slump in construction is not their only worry.

Ubiquitous mobile phones have also started bothering the workers, who say contractors who engage them call workers over mobile phones for work.

“The contractors have stopped looking for workers at Manikoondu. They instead call the workers with mobile phone and the workers take along the required labour force,” says Ms. Mariamma.

She adds, “We cannot afford mobile phone and so cannot find work that easily. It also a reason why we have went without work in the past couple of weeks.”

They say the absence of work ahead of Deepavali has spoilt the fun in the festival of lights.

“How do I think of new clothes and sweets when paying rent itself is a big challenge?” asks V. Lakshmi, who at 62, has to work.

Apart from the work and Deepavali, elderly men and women like her have been affected on another front.

In the absence of work and money, the workers, particularly the older women, go to the nearby Government-administered Easwaran Kovil for food.

The temple, as part of the Government’s annadhana scheme, provides food.

Ms. Lakshmi says the temple workers treat them badly for wanting to have food under the scheme.

Respect

Arguing that she is not seeking alms, the woman says workers like her want the district administration to order the temple authorities to treat workers with respect.

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