Employment in the construction industry is often seen as a way out of poverty for those with little education or skill. Construction work also provides a traditional point of entry into the urban labour market for migrant workers from the countryside. It is often the only significant alternative to farm labour and has special significance for the landless.
However, construction work is dirty, difficult and dangerous. It is also irregular, badly paid and decidedly ‘un-decent’ (Lerche 2011). The majority of construction workers around the world are men. But in the countries of South Asia women are integrated into the industry at the bottom end as ‘helpers’, performing the heaviest work for the lowest pay.
That the industry today contains more than its share of working poor is in large part due to the changes that have taken place in employment relationships and industrial structure over the past 2 to 3 decades. These are briefly described in this section before discussing policies that have been relatively successful in addressing the issue of chronic poverty among construction workers.