New Delhi: Millions of workers are employed in brick kilns in India, only to be found in endemic levels of debt bondage and the worst forms of child labour, according to a new report by an anti-slavery group.
The study by the London-based Anti-Slavery International noted that women were “invisible workers” in the kilns and were deprived of all employment benefits.
“Workers are hired as a family unit, and wages are exclusively paid to the male head of the household unit,” the study said.
The report focuses on brick kiln moulders, who form the majority of the workforce at brick kilns in Punjab which was the focal point of the research.
Another finding was that one-third of the total workforce in brick kilns were children, of whom a staggering 65 to 80 per cent were between the ages of five and 14 years.
“Children reported working an average of nine hours a day in the summer months and seven hours a day in the winter months, regardless of whether they worked as a ‘main worker’ or ‘support worker’,” the study said.
These children are deprived of education and other “early childhood service”.
Those between the ages of 14 and 18 years were found to be working “on average 12 hours a day in summer months and 10 hours a day during the winter months”.
“Seventy-seven per cent of this age group reported working as a main worker and 23 per cent as a support worker.”
Anti-Slavery International said this was in violation of international laws, under which children under 18 should not be working in slavery or practices similar to slavery, including debt bondage, or in work that is likely to harm health.
The bonded nature of labour, according to the report, is a manifestation of workers — 96 per cent — taking an advance or loan before starting work in the kilns.
“The provision of an advance/loan is a key part of the bonded labour system, and is used in the kilns, along with withholding of wages and other measures to control workers,” the study noted.
It also brought to light practices such as payment of workers according to a piece rate, withholding of wages and payment below minimum wage, resulting in constant poverty and marginalisation, which in turn leads to exploitation and slavery.
The findings of the report are based on two primary data sources — a 2016 research that interviewed brick kiln workers from Chhattisgarh, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, and a baseline study conducted in 2015-16 in Punjab, where over 3,000 workers were interviewed and 208 brick kilns were surveyed.