Committee Hall, Convention Centre, JNU, New Delhi, 17 November 2014
The national seminar ‘Bondage and Informality-A case of Brick Kilns in India’ was organised jointly with the Centre for Informal Sector and Labour Studies< Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. It aimed to look afresh and in an unconventional manner some of the issues confronting bonded labourers. It derived its relevance from the fact that various studies and anecdotal experiences have shown that the warp of time and space that used to define bonded labour as traditional and static phenomenon has been seriously challenged. Losing its intergenerational and permanent character, bondage in contemporary India has become seasonal and temporary. It has transformed into a flexible and adaptive system of employment that institutionalises labour vulnerability through debt. Public policy and the existing regulatory mechanisms, geared to identify and eradicate bondage, have failed in preventing its reproduction. Globalisation and new forms of capital accumulation operating through contractualisation and casualisation of work processes are reinforcing this vulnerability exacerbating social and economic dependency and subjugation. Bonded Labourers are poor, socially excluded with no assets other than their labour power which they are forced to pledge/sell.
Brick Kilns present a classic case where debt or advance is a precondition for entering the labour market. In a situation where worker has less control over his or her own agency, he or she is unable to defend even the basic and inalienable human rights at workplace. Though covered under various labour laws, none are applied in the brick kilns. Brick Kilns employ family labour including children and no separate wages are given to the women workers. Further, control is exerted through delays, deductions and withholding of wages. In addition exorbitant interest rates and fudged accounting leaves the bonded labourer with the burden of a sizeable debt.
The seminar helped in making bonded labour an agenda of debate as there was participation from trade unions, academia and civil society organisations during the seminar. Volume / publication including all the papers presented will follow.