Each year, informal workers in India collectively lose billions of rupees as a result of wage fraud, and suffer injuries and accidents that remain uncompensated by contractors, employers, or the state. Recruited through a chain of intermediaries and employed without formal contracts, the lack of evidence and records makes it nearly impossible for workers to assert their claims in the court of law. Our Legal Education and Aid (LEAD) Cell was conceptualised as a powerful, scalable model for addressing this problem and empowering workers to access justice in their recurring experiences of abuse, exploitation and malpractice.
LEAD Cell’s ‘walk-in centres’ comprises a team of lawyers, counsellors and staff members trained to piece together the typically thin evidence of employment available in the hands of the worker and resolve cases through mediation and arbitration, as opposed to litigation, which can be time-consuming, ineffective and unaffordable. Over the course of the last decade, interventions by LEAD have helped recover over INR 35.65 crores (USD 4.5 million) for workers.
LEAD adopts an end-to-end approach to justice delivery, combining legal aid with awareness building and legal literacy. The efficacy of this work also rests on a strong cadre of para-legal workers identified from the community institutions (worker collectives; women’s solidarity groups) that our work is embedded in.
LEAD also operates LabourLine (1800-1800-999), a phone-based helpline offering legal aid, mediation, and information dissemination. LabourLine is a high impact intervention, providing easy access as well as effective and swift grievance redressal to workers in distress. Operationalised in the year 2011, at present, Labourline receives an average of five thousand calls each month from workers across Rajasthan and Gujarat.
While at its core Labourline is an endeavour to provide legal support to workers, it is also an equally effective platform for facilitating workers’ linkage to entitlements. As of April 2022, Labourline has facilitated approximately 64,000 registrations with the Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Board (BOCW) and enabled access to approximately INR 33.65 crore in scheme value for workers.
In a recent collaboration with Working Peoples’ Coalition, a network of organisations working on issues of informal labour, India LabourLine (1800-833-9020) was set up as a scaled up initiative was scaled up version of our helpline based legal aid model. Headquartered in Mumbai, ILL is currently operational across 5 states. LEAD Cell extends primary technical support to ILL. As of November 2022, ILL has registered approximately 4,900 cases and recovered a sum of 3 crores.
In partnership with Childline India Foundation, the LEAD Cell runs a unit of ‘ChildLine’ in the Pratapgarh district of Rajasthan. Childline is a helpline designed to extend support to children who are victims of abuse, bondage and/or trafficking.