Indian Tradeswomen Creating Positive Change for Female Construction Workers

By on November 7, 2017

From Labor Tribune:  Patience and perseverance. That’s how Thresiamma Mathew and Vrishali Pispati are overcoming adversity to create positive change in the lives of tradeswomen and their families in India.

Thresiamma Mathew (second from left) and Vrishali Pispati (third from left) shared how they are changing the landscape for tradeswomen in India at an event here Oct. 11 sponsored by Missouri Women in Trades (MoWIT). Cindy Frank, coordinator of Sisters in the Brotherhood of the St. Louis-Kansas City Regional Carpenters Council (left) and Beth Barton, MoWIT president (right), hosted the women when they were in St. Louis.

The two Indian tradeswomen advocates shared their experiences in the industry with an audience of about 50 during an event hosted by Missouri Women in Trades Oct. 11 at Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 Union Hall.

In January, MoWIT President Beth Barton traveled to the country as part of the first U.S. Delegation of Tradeswomen to India to build an international network of support. The delegation chose India because it has the highest concentration of female construction workers in the world – about 40 percent.

The international journey continued in October with Matthew and Pispati visiting St. Louis to meet with union leaders and organizers and to tour union training centers and jobsites. Later in the week, the advocates traveled to Chicago for the Women Build Nations conference with tradeswomen from the St. Louis area.

Mathew is the founder and director of the Archana Women’s Centre in Kottayam, which offers training and courses for women in the building trades, and Pispati is chief executive officer of Mumbai Mobile Crèches, which offers a range of services to children living on construction sites without schools or clinics or safe places to play.

India is going through one of the largest construction booms and GDP growth in the world. About 90 percent of the country’s construction projects are considered “informal.” They are similar to private projects in the United States. They are not regulated by the government and wages are negotiated directly between the employer and the worker.

The workers on these projects often work 12 hours a day, seven days a week with only one or two days off a month and safety regulations are virtually non-existent. Workers are frequently seen at jobsites wearing no shoes, hardhats, gloves or safety harnesses and the jobsites are bereft of any barriers, meaning anyone can walk through a project at any time.

The country’s large population and the lack of basic living necessities and work have led to a large migrant workforce that follows projects. The migrant workers, who often work without any benefit and for half the normal pay rate, displace the local workforce, which already works for low wages.

Families are often hired in units with children as young as 10 joining in the work. Women often carry their babies on their backs while they work and their younger children wander the jobsite.

Within the family unit, the man is considered a skilled worker, and women are referred to as helpers. Women are only paid one-half to one-third of what men earn even though they do the same work.

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