Despite crores in cess revenues, failure to effectively regulate Karnataka’s construction sector is depriving generations of migrant workers access to government benefits, officials heard on Wednesday.
Up till now, the labour department has collected Rs 3,915 cr in cess in Bengaluru alone, the bulk of which has not reached the migrant construction labourers.
From 2007 to December 2019, the labour department registered 21,88,623 construction workers and, in the same period, disbursed only Rs 495 cr in benefits to workers - the highest of which was in Bengaluru (Rs 43 cr).
“We must increase the health welfare, the safety, the financial welfare of these workers. Voiceless labourers need our help,” said Minister for Labor and Sakala, S Suresh Kumar, during a special conclave on construction labourers at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Bengaluru on Wednesday.
Suresh Hari, Chairman of Credai Bengaluru, said the government must look at ways to implement benefits and services to labourers.
“Today, no labourer is able to draw the cess money to which they are entitled, that is the biggest problem,” he said and added that the 1996 Building and Other Construction Workers Act (BOCW) may need to be revisited to be made more effective.
Kumar promised to tackle weaknesses in the implementation of (BOCW), saying that the appointment of a dedicated joint labour commissioner in the construction workers welfare board could help addresses the issue. The minister also pointed to a 45% vacancy in the labour department.
When N P Swamy, President of the Karnataka State Construction Workers Central Union, blamed illiteracy for the workers’ ignorance about accessing benefits, Kumar revealed plans to launch a helpline for construction workers to access information and report grievances.
“The number, 155214, will be operational from February 4,” he said.