Every time a vehicle slowed down at the Greater Noida Delta area roundabout on Friday morning, a group of at least 10 people would start running alongside it. From the small slit in the window, they asked the passengers if they needed workers for work.
With the onset of the third wave of Covid and associated restrictions, workers again grew more desperate as jobs began to dry up.
Nearly 3 km from Pari Chowk, more than 5,000 workers gather every day to find work. They offer a variety of services – lifting bags of cement, building stone walls, painting and assembly work in a factory – to individuals and organizations.
Workers said this way of looking for work had been in place for several years and was a smooth process. But successive waves of the pandemic have left many without a daily wage for weeks now.
Among them is Ram Charan Singh (60), who has lost sight in his left eye over the years, and visits daily at work. Her three sons, also engaged in daily wage labor, have been unable to earn money during the pandemic.
“I have been a worker all my life. Work was better earlier and we got by. Since the new wave hit, it has pretty much stopped. At my age with my disability, no one wants to hire me. But I can’t stop trying because the expenses are piling up; even getting two meals a day is difficult these days,” said Aligarh native Singh.
Most laborers live in localities of Greater Noida such as Kasna and Surajpur in one-room houses and pay rent between Rs 2,500 and Rs 5,000. cannot afford public transport.
Chanda Devi, 60, was standing in a corner of the chowk. A widow with two sons, she used to do odd jobs like gardening to help earn extra income. Before the pandemic, she earned close to Rs 300-Rs 400 every three days. In the past month, she has only been hired three times.
“With the lockdown in place, fewer people are approaching us. Even though we’re vaccinated, everyone thinks interacting with us will give them Covid. But all we need is work. There are no policies in place for us. If big industries hire us, they deduct half of what they’re supposed to pay under some pretext or another. Should we start begging now? ” she said.
Some workers said long-term fixed contractors, who would find them jobs on housing company construction sites, had not paid their dues for months. Restrictions on building to control pollution and a new spike in cases also affected job opportunities, they said.
Many workers said they would abstain from voting in the upcoming assembly elections. “The government says people should work from home. Where are we in this? I have five children and most of them can’t go to school anymore because I can’t pay their school fees. LPG prices have skyrocketed, even making a meal is difficult. If this continues, we will not be able to survive. Debt and spending, not Covid, is the biggest crisis,” said Sanjeev Kumar, a worker who lives in Surajpur.
Gautam Buddh Nagar Deputy Labor Commissioner Shankar said the Ministry of Labor runs a portal for workers, where they can register for benefits: “We are constantly registering workers. As per the policy, they will receive an allowance of Rs 500 per month as part of the measures taken during the pandemic. This applies to both construction workers and those in non-union sectors. Once registered on the portal, they can benefit from advantages.