What the construction industry can learn from the Coronavirus lockdown
Meena Murthy Kakkar, design head & partner, Envisage Projects, shares why we need to relook at the health and sanitation norms in the construction industry in India
With the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak that has affected trade and industries worldwide, disruptions in business cycles are bound to impact the demand for commercial as well as residential spaces in the real estate market of India. Amidst such distress and lockdown, traditional real estate practices have come to a halt as realtors are trying to juggle business-related responsibilities with measures to protect themselves and others around them. However, this crisis has shown the importance of the oft-ignored working class in India, with labour-intensive businesses in India and abroad being the most affected ones - directly impacting the lives of real-estate and construction workers, which will undoubtedly be affected by the economic and social impact of this pandemic.
The construction industry in India is heavily dependent on manual labour, where a large group of workers is to be expected - and safety and health regulations are extremely lax or in some cases, non-existent. The life of a construction worker has never been easy in India, with a significant majority of the manual labourers being migrants from different parts of the country. Most of the lower rung of construction workers are unskilled, poor people who struggle for access to basic necessities of food, shelter and clothing. Earning meagre wages, these workmen do not have the liberty to take days off with every day being a struggle for survival. It is a life where food and shelter isn’t always a guarantee, which leads to healthcare being a non-priority. They cannot afford to be slowed down by fever, flu or any symptoms of a disease, as the day’s earnings cannot be compromised. This leads to construction sites being extremely susceptible to contagious disease and germs. Sanitation and cleanliness are also secondary concerns, with situations improving only in recent years from being horrible to now simply passable.
This unprecedented pandemic and the subsequent lockdown in India has put into perspective a lot of things that we take for granted in our lives. From this contagion, has also risen the opportunity to relook at the health and sanitation norms in the construction industry in India. A stronger look needs to be taken in regards to the safety and sanitation of our construction workers, with an immediate measure towards preventing disease at the construction sites, and allowing paid leaves for ill workers.
A more long-term solution also needs to be found, with a focus towards ensuring that our workers don’t have to risk their physical and mental well-being while working. Labour Unions can also be an option to explore, as it would help provide valuable data to streamline the construction industry and bring it on par with its western counterparts. It is essential for the real estate industry to evaluate and regulate safety standards and empathise with those who they work with, in this time of contagion and (hopefully short-lived, but inescapable) economic recession.