Unorganised, unwept, unsung

Unorganised, unwept, unsung

The rulers who boast of the country’s robust economy touching new heights every year have failed to ensure that the fruits of growth reach a large section of labourers in the construction industry.

Of the four crore labourers in India’s construction industry, only 1.2 lakh get the benefit of provident fund, even though the PF Act was formulated almost 60 years ago. There are altogether 74 Acts pertaining to workers, but it took 50 years after Independence to formulate a law specifically for the workers in the construction industry, which is called Building and Other Construction Workers' Welfare Act (BOCWWA) 1996.

The successive governments in Karnataka compounded such callousness by taking 10 years to issue a notification and frame rules under the Act in 2006. It was only after 2006 that the Act came into force in the State.

“We had to struggle much. We had to convince ministers and bureaucrats to formulate rules and bring the law into effect,” said Palani Kumar, General Secretary, Karnataka State Construction Workers’ Central Union (KSCWCU).

“This is a wonderful law because it takes care of individuals from cradle to grave,” commented a senior officer in the State Department of Labour.

The BOCWWA offers maternity assistance and financial support for marriage, disability, hospitalisation, pension scheme, accident benefits and funeral expenses. To avail of the benefit, the worker has to pay a mere Rs 25 as registration fee and a monthly fee of Rs 10. The government issues an identity card to the worker entitling her or him to the benefits available under the Act.

Despite being a very attractive scheme, it has few takers. Trade union leaders claim that the population of construction workers in Karnataka is not less than a crore, but only 1.2 lakh people avail of the benefits, as 99 per cent labourers are not enrolled with the Building and Other Construction Workers' Welfare Board (BOCWWB).

The board with Rs 650 crore in its welfare fund offers a slew of benefits worth Rs three lakh to each individual, but in the last five years, since the Act came into being in the State, a mere Rs 1.23 crore has been spent.

“The problem is that we cannot spend money arbitrarily but only on workers enlisted with us,” said a senior officer with the Board. While the workers are illiterate and have no knowledge about the benefits of the Act, contractors and builders do not want their workers to enlist for benefits, say the Board officers.

“Contractors and builders fear that enlisting the labourers would bring them within the ambit of the Provident Fund Act. They are also afraid of more liabilities if their workers get enrolled with the Board. But they do not know how much it would benefit them,” said a trade union leader.

The insensitivity of the contractors and the builders could be gleaned from the painful experience that the students of the department of social welfare studies of Bangalore University had to go through when they went to survey different worksites in Bangalore. The project was a joint exercise of BU and the Construction Workers’ Board.

“Many builders and contractors drove the students away from their workplace and subjected them to such verbal abuse that they came to us weeping,” said an officer of the Labour Department. The board has decided to crack down on builders and contractors who have ignored the call to avail benefits of the schemes for their workers.

Anantha Subba Rao, the State general secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) sees a different reason behind the labourers not availing of the benefits of the scheme. “The government has fixed a very nominal amount for the workers to avail of the benefits of the scheme. But the problem is that labourers keep migrating from one place to another because of which they show reluctance.”

The Board has also decided to launch a serious drive to enrol workers. It has decided to rope in 188 inspectors to decentralise the process of enrolling workers from the unorganised sector. The inspectors will reach out to the taluks.

After the recent tragedy at CK Palya on Bannerghatta Road where five workers from Bihar were crushed to death under a wall that collapsed, the Board took the initiative to identify the unknown workers. It has written to the district collector of Khagaria in Bihar to identify the relatives of the victims so that they can be paid compensation of up to Rs 50,000 each.

“It is only in Karnataka that a compensation of Rs 50,000 is given by the Board even to those who are not listed with us,” said an officer.

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