Photo of an Indian worker in Delhi, India.
Dayworkers are often not paid minimum wages and even the agreed wages are not paid in time. Moreover, their working time and hours are not well regulated and they do not get paid when they work overtime as seen in this portrait of an Indian worker in Delhi, India.



Working conditions and salaries in India are different from the ones in western countries. In this photo essay by Kristian Bertel he has portrayed the dayworkers in India. Leave facilities are hardly ever available for the construction workers and holiday policy are rare. The working hours of the construction laborers varied considerably but most of them work as much as 8 to 11 hours a day.

An immerse diverse culture
A construction worker is a manual laborer employed in the physical construction of the built environment and its infrastructure. The term construction worker is a broad and generic term and most construction workers are primarily described by the level and type of work they perform. Labourers carry out a wide range of practical tasks to help tradespersons on construction sites. Labourers clean the construction site on a regular basis and they use tools such as rakes, shovels and wheelbarrows to remove rubble, scraps of metal and wood or they might also need to sweep out certain areas and get building supplies in order. The official work week in India runs from Monday to Saturday, from 10am to 6pm each day. In reality, overtime is the norm and most local companies do not compensate their workers for it and the Indian work culture is immensely diverse. There are major differences depending on whether you work for small, local companies, for big Indian corporations or for international companies and business practices also vary between regions.

Formal labour in India
Formal labour is any sort of employment that is structured and paid in a formal way. Unlike the informal sector of the economy, formal labour within a country contributes to that country's gross national product. Informal labour is labour that falls short of being a formal arrangement in law or in practice and it can be paid or unpaid and it is always unstructured and unregulated. Formal employment is more reliable than informal employment and generally, the former yields higher income and greater benefits and securities for both men and women.


Photo of an apartment building in Delhi, India.
In case of accident, there is, in general, no provision for financial and medical aid. It is up to the workers themselves to arrange for the treatment. In this photograph we see an Indian apartment building in central Delhi, India.



Photographing the working people in India
For various reasons, there is a strong correlation between manual labour and unskilled or semiskilled workers, despite the fact that nearly any work can potentially have skill and intelligence applied to it for instance the artisanal skill of craft production, or the logic of applied science. It has always been the case for humans that many workers begin their working lives lacking any special level of skill or experience. In the past two centuries, education has become more important and more widely disseminated, but even today, not everyone can know everything, or have experience in a great number of occupations. It has also always been the case that there was a large amount of manual labour to be done and that much of it was simple enough to be successfully if not masterfully done by unskilled or semiskilled workers, which has meant that there have always been plenty of people with the potential to do it. These conditions have assured the correlation's strength and persistence.


Photo of a construction worker in Delhi, India.
India has the world's highest accident rate among construction workers. Moreover the companies are not ready to compensate employee's having injuries who are not covered by life insurance.



Labour structure in India
Over ninetyfour percent of India's working population is part of the unorganised sector and in local terms, organised sector or formal sector in India refers to licensed organisations, that is, those who are registered and pay GST, which is the Goods and Services Tax. These include the publicly traded companies, incorporated or formally registered entities, corporations, factories, shopping malls, hotels and large businesses. Unorganised sector, also known as own account enterprises, refers to all unlicensed, self-employed or unregistered economic activity such as owner manned general stores, handicrafts and handloom workers, rural traders, farmers and so on.

India's Ministry of Labour has over ten years ago classified the unorganised labour in India into four groups. This classification categorized India's unorganised labour force by occupation, nature of employment, specially distressed categories and service categories. The unorganised occupational groups include small and marginal farmers, landless agricultural labourers, sharecroppers, fishermen, those engaged in animal husbandry, beedi rolling, labeling and packing, building and construction workers, leather workers, weavers, artisans, salt workers, workers in brick kilns and stone quarries, workers in saw mills and workers in oil mills. A separate category based on nature of employment includes attached agricultural labourers, bonded labourers, migrant workers, contract and casual labourers. Another separate category dedicated to distressed unorganised sector includes toddy tappers, scavengers, carriers of head loads, drivers of animal driven vehicles, loaders and unloaders. The last unorganised labour category includes service workers such as midwives, domestic workers, barbers, vegetable and fruit vendors, newspaper vendors, pavement vendors, hand cart operators and the unorganised retail.

The unorganised sector in India
The unorganised sector has low productivity and offers lower wages. Even though it accounted for over ninetyfour percent of workers, India's unorganised sector created just fiftyseven percent of India's national domestic product or about nine fold less per worker than the organised sector. The productivity gap sharply worsens when rural unorganised sector is compared to urban unorganised sector, with gross value added productivity gap spiking an additional two to four fold depending on occupation. Some of lowest income jobs are in the rural unorganised sectors and poverty rates are reported to be significantly higher in families where all working age members have only worked the unorganised sector throughout their lives. Agriculture, dairy, horticulture and related occupations alone employ fiftytwo percent of labour in India. About 30 million workers are migrant workers, most in agriculture and local stable employment is unavailable for them.

In India it is found that unorganised manufacturing, unorganised trading and retail and unorganised services employed about ten percent each of all workers nationwide. It also reported that India had about 58 million unincorporated non-Agriculture enterprises. In the organised private sector with more than 10 employees per company, the biggest employers were manufacturing at 5 million social services at 2.2 million, which includes private schools and hospitals, finance at 1.1 million which includes bank, insurance and real estate and agriculture at 1 million. India had more central and state government employees, than employees in all private sector companies combined.


Photo of people walking in a street in India.
The working conditions and the facilities provided at the sites are far from satisfactory. Most of the companies do not even provide safety belts, protection eye wears, hand gloves, shoes or helmets to their workers.



Population growth also seen in the numbers of workers in India
Given its natural rate of population growth and aging characteristics, India is adding about 13 million new workers every year to its labour pool. India's economy has been adding about 8 million new jobs every year predominantly in low paying, unorganised sector. The remaining 5 million youth joining the ranks of poorly paid partial employment, casual labour pool for temporary infrastructure and real estate construction jobs or in many cases being unemployed.

The importance of hierarchies in Indian culture can also be witnessed in the daily work environment. People of different management levels are treated differently. The behaviour of superiors towards other employees seems very rude from a Western point of view. The rude working behaviour is normal in India. Even though that it might make people uncomfortable at first, people need to adapt to this as otherwise employees of lower hierarchy levels will try to take advantage of your kindness. Average salaries in India are only a fraction of Western salaries. However, they are rising at rates between twelve and fourteen percent each year. Wages provides only a minimal standard of living for a worker and were inadequate to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family and Indian salaries are stated in lakhs, increments of hundreds of thousands.

The social classes in the working force in India
There has always been a tendency among people of the higher gradations of social class to oversimplify the correlation between manual labour and lack of skill or need for skill into one of equivalence, leading to dubious exaggerations such as the notion that anyone who worked physically could be identified by that very fact as being unintelligent or unskilled, or that any task requiring physical work must by that very fact be simplistic and not worthy of analysis or of being done by anyone with intelligence or social rank. Given the human cognitive tendency toward rationalisation, it is natural enough that such grey areas have often been warped into absolutes black and white thinking by people seeking to justify and perpetuate their social advantage.


Photo of a construction worker in Delhi, India.
Manual work is physical work done by humans, in contrast to labour by machines and working animals. It is most literally work done with the hands the word 'Manual' comes from the Latin word for hand and by figurative extension it is work done with any of the muscles and bones of the body. For most of human prehistory and history, manual labour and its close cousin, animal labour, have been the primary ways that physical work has been accomplished.



Conditions of the dayworkers
Mechanisation and automation, which reduce the need for human and animal labour in production, have existed for centuries, but it was only starting in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that they began to significantly expand and to change human culture. To be implemented, they require that sufficient technology exist and that its capital costs be justified by the amount of future wages that they will obviate. Semi-automation is an alternative to worker displacement that combines human labour, automation and computerization to leverage the advantages of both man and machine. Construction workers are unskilled and illiterate workers, which make them very vulnerable to exploitation. Being part of an unorganized and fragmented sector their bargaining power is low and they cannot easily fight against injustice. Dayworkers are often not paid minimum wages and even the agreed wages are not paid in time. Moreover, their working time and hours are not well regulated and they do not get paid when they work overtime. Leave facilities are hardly ever available for the construction workers and holiday policy are rare. The working hours of the construction laborers varied considerably but most of them work as much as 8 to 11 hours a day.


Photo of a street vendor in Delhi, India.
Average salaries in India are only a fraction of Western salaries. However, they are rising at rates between twelve and fourteen percent each year and Indian salaries are stated in lakhs, increments of hundreds of thousands.



Skilled workers and unskilled workers in India
Although nearly any work can potentially have skill and intelligence applied to it, many jobs that mostly comprise manual labour—such as fruit and vegetable picking, manual materials handling for instance, shelf stocking, manual digging, or manual assembly of parts—often may be done successfully if not masterfully by unskilled or semiskilled workers. Thus there is a partial but significant correlation between manual labour and unskilled or semiskilled workers. Based on economic and social conflict of interest, people may often distort that partial correlation into an exaggeration that equates manual labour with lack of skill with lack of any potential to apply skill to a task or to develop skill in a worker and with low social class. Throughout human existence the latter has involved a spectrum of variants, from slavery with stigmatisation of the slaves as 'Subhuman', to caste or caste-like systems, to subtler forms of inequality.


Photo of dog sleeping in India.
Wages provides only a minimal standard of living for a worker and were inadequate to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. In this photo a dog is sleeping in Delhi, India.



Photo of a worker in Pushkar, India.
The rude working behaviour is normal in India. Even though that it might make people uncomfortable at first, people need to adapt to this as otherwise employees of lower hierarchy levels will try to take advantage of your kindness.



Safety among the dayworkers
The working conditions and the facilities provided at the sites are far from satisfactory. Most of the companies do not even provide safety belts, protection eye wears, hand gloves, shoes or helmets to their workers. India has the world's highest accident rate among construction workers. Moreover the companies are not ready to compensate employee's having injuries who are not covered by life insurance. In case of accident, there is, in general, no provision for financial and medical aid and it is up to the workers themselves to arrange for the treatment.

Labour laws in India
The labour laws of India originated and express the socio-political views of leaders independence movement struggle. These laws were expanded in part after debates in and in part from international conventions and recommendations such as of International Labour Organization. The current mosaic of Indian laws on employment are thus a combination of India's history during its colonial heritage, India's experiments with socialism, important human rights and the conventions and standards that have emerged. The laws cover the right to work of one's choice, right against discrimination, prohibition of child labour, fair and humane conditions of work, social security, protection of wages, redress of grievances, right to organise and form trade unions, collective bargaining and participation in management.

India has numerous labour laws such as those prohibiting discrimination and child labour, those that aim to guarantee fair and humane conditions of work, those that provide social security, minimum wage, right to organise, form trade unions and enforce collective bargaining. India also has numerous rigid regulations such as maximum number of employees per company in certain sectors of economy, and limitations on employers on retrenchment and layoffs, requirement of paperwork, bureaucratic process and government approval for change in labour in companies even if these are because of economic conditions. Indian labour laws are considered to be very highly regulated and rigid as compared to those of other countries in the world. The intensity of these laws have been criticised as the cause of low employment growth, large unorganised sectors, underground economy and low per capita income. These have led many to demand reforms for labour market flexibility in India. India has over fifty major acts and numerous laws that regulate employers in matters relating to industrial relations, employee unions as well as who, how and when enterprises can employ or terminate employment. Many of these laws survive from British colonial times, while some have been enacted after India's independence from Britain.


Photo of construction workers in Jaipur, India.
Construction workers are unskilled and illiterate workers, which make them very vulnerable to exploitation. Being part of an unorganized and fragmented sector their bargaining power is low and they cannot easily fight against injustice. In this photograph Indian men are cutting stone on the outskirts of Jaipur, India.



Photo of a worker in Pushkar, India.
The importance of hierarchies in Indian culture can also be witnessed in the daily work environment. People of different management levels are treated differently. The behaviour of superiors towards other employees seems very rude from a Western point of view.



Bonded workers in India is a common sight
Bonded labour is a forced relationship between an employer and an employee, where the compulsion is derived from outstanding debt. Often the interest accrues at a rate that is so high that the bonded labour lasts a very long periods of time, or indefinitely. Sometimes, the employee has no options for employment in the organised or unorganised sectors of India and prefers the security of any employment including one offered in bonded labour form. While illegal, bonded labour relationships may be reinforced by force or they may continue from custom. Once an employee enters into a bonded relationships, they are characterised by asymmetry of information, opportunity, no time to search for alternative jobs and high exit costs. Estimates of bonded labour in India vary widely, depending on survey methods, assumptions and sources and official Indian government estimates claim a few hundred thousand labourers are bonded labourers while a estimate forty years ago placed bonded labour in India to be 2.62 million.

Photographer with a variety of photography
The photographer foud out that in India it estimated that there are 343,000 bonded labourers in 16 major states, of which 285,379 were located and freed over thirty years ago. The major employment sectors for debt bonded labour include agriculture, stone quarries, brick kilns, religious and temple workmen, pottery, rural weaving, fishing, forestry, betel and bidi workers, carpet, illegal mining and fireworks. Child labour has been found in family debt bonded situations and in each survey, debt bonded labourers have been found in unorganised, unincorporated sector. The photographer has photographed many social aspects such as the working conditions for the dayworkers in this photo essay and if you are interested in more photographs from India then for further information, please:
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More photographs from India
Humanitarian photography that also concerns child rights can be seen in more of his photos on Kristian Bertel | Photography on Facebook with stories from India. In the slideshow below, which also appears on the photographer's website you can moreover see a range of photos from India collected in a gallery that are representing India.
See the slideshow | press here