The urbanisation-construction- migration nexus in 5 cities in south Asia

The urbanisation-construction- migration nexus in 5 cities in south Asia

This briefing note is the outcome of a DFID-SARH commissioned research project (March 2014 – October 2015) on the “Urbanisation-Construction-Migration Nexus in Five Cities in South Asia (UcMnSA): – Kabul (Afghanistan), Dhaka (Bangladesh), Chennai (India), Kathmandu (Nepal) and Lahore (Pakistan).  It contributes to the literature on urbanisation and migration, as well as to the practice and policy domains by: (i) linking the growing power of urban consumption and investment with (ii) the demand for rural migrant contract construction labour (transient migrants) via (iii) large-scale urban construction projects (residential, commercial, industrial and infrastructure).  The overarching research question is: How do investments in large-scale urban construction and the demand for labour generated, give rise to varied forms of migration?

Transient contract migration refers to migration undertaken to join a workforce (as opposed to traditional forms of migration that were predominantly in search of work). The use of such labour in large-scale urban construction is certain to increase as it provides a flow of transient migrant workers whose rural livelihoods are increasingly untenable and whose alternative income earning opportunities are elusive. By working in large-scale urban construction, transient migrant workers are confronted with several trade-offs. These include: living in low quality “gated” labour camps with very poor services (something that is especially problematic for women and children); forgoing opportunities for collective action; being indebted, to varying degrees, to labour-contractors through monetary advances and withholding of wages during periods of absence; and accepting pay that was below the minimum wage. The practice of housing these workers in “gated” labour camps with variable freedoms to move in and out makes this labour force invisible and hard to reach by state and non-state actors alike. This raises a range of complex challenges both for policy makers and activists seeking to address deprivation in the economic, social and political spheres.4 It also has implications for the possibilities of workers to organise collectively.Tangentially, but of equal importance, is the impact that large-scale urban construction has on rural and urban landscapes, albeit in different ways. Unfettered investment in urban real estate and infrastructure and the accompanying industrial appetite for resources are accelerating processes of enclosure and “dispossession”5 in the urban-periphery, as well as in rural hinterlands several hundred kilometres away.The policy challenges faced by internal rural-urban contract construction labour migrants are different to those experienced by international labour construction migrants. In both instances, they experience: wage exploitation; health and safety violations; and poor living (including sanitary) conditions. However, there is more data available on the latter in relation to nationality, scale of migration and their sponsors. Furthermore, nation-states are less able to absolve themselves of their responsibility to their “citizens” abroad. In comparison, the state is largely absent in honouring its responsibility to internal rural-urban construction migrants – a situation exacerbated by their invisibility.