South Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - Hierarchies of Working and Shirking: Anatomy of an Industrial Accident

Friday, July 6
2:40 PM - 4:10 PM
Location: Jacaranda II, First Floor

This paper explores the relationship between technological change and labor markets in the context of an industrial accident in a public sector factory in Mumbai. Its primary interest is in documenting the elaborate network of contractual labor and its internal hierarchies as manifest in one field site. The paper uses four responses to the accident – of permanent workers, contract workers, factory management and contractors, enabling a preliminary understanding of the mesh of precarity that applies to different levels of work and workers.

The accident occurred in July 2017 when a truck driver’s hand got stuck in a conveyor belt. The worker was not on the company’s roll and was technically in charge of transport alone. Most contract workers have to navigate an extensive network of patronage extending from higher level management to regular workers and contractors, leading to their having to undertake tasks which do not feature in their job description.

Workers are differentially enmeshed within complex networks of contracting and sub-contracting, which acquires sharper relief in the case of the accident. The responses documented here acknowledge institutionalized yet informal networks of working and shirking within the factory, influencing the tasks to be performed by workers at different levels of the permanent-contract hierarchy. The constant flux between formality and informality constitutes every day for a significant number of workers even within Public Sector Undertakings.

The paper uses data derived from a revisit in 2017 to a field site to a PSU in Mumbai which was originally studied in 2013-14. 

Aardra Surendran

Tata Institute of Social Sciences, India


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3 - Hierarchies of Working and Shirking: Anatomy of an Industrial Accident

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