Skip to main content

Construction workers' hard-won rights threatened, redressal mechanism 'crippled'

By Bharat Dogra* 

Very significant gains were achieved by construction workers of India in the form of two laws enacted in 1996 for their social security and welfare. Then for over two decades another phase of struggle had to continue for their implementation in the right spirit.
By the year 2018 again there were significant successes in the form of decisions of Supreme Court and High Courts for proper implementation. Just when it appeared that the promising laws and the significant gains they could bring to the workers were being stabilized, a new and big hurdle has appeared in the form of the new labor codes.
Although all aspects of the new Labour Codes have not been finalized yet, there is enough evidence that several of the gains made by construction workers are badly threatened now. In an most updated, detailed and well-referenced review of recent changes published in the “Economic and Political Weekly” (5 February) titled ‘Building Workers Under the New Codes’, Chirayu Jain has written:
“The Code on Social Security (SS) 2020 and the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions (OSH) Code 2020 now stand notified by the Central Government. Once they are brought into force, it would mean a death knell to the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act (BOCW Act), 1996 and the accompanying legislation, Building and Other Construction Workers Cess Act,1996 (Cess Act).”
Construction work is perhaps the second most important source of livelihood in the country after farming related work. Despite the setbacks of recent times, organizations of construction workers estimate their number to around 9 crore or so.
Construction workers faced extremely difficult times soon after demonetisation and again in COVID cum lockdowns phase. Those who are migrants faced even greater difficulties. Alongside there is also this longer-term setback in the form of the fate of the special welfare laws relating to them becoming much more uncertain.
The National Campaign Committee for Construction Labor (NCC-CL) had played a very important role in the campaign for these laws and in fighting cases in various courts for their proper implementation. 
These laws provided for a cess of one per cent to be imposed on construction works to create a fund that can provide pensions, health and maternity benefits for construction workers and scholarships for their children. Thirty six building and other construction worker boards (BOCW boards) have been set up in different states and union territories since then under these two laws.
Till 2019 over Rs 36,000 crore had been collected for welfare of workers under these laws although only a little over Rs 9,000 crore had been actually spent. If proper implementation had started immediately after 1996, certainly much more would have been collected, perhaps nearly four times more than the actual collection made.
Progress was certainly slow initially but after the court orders implementation hopes had been rising (particularly after a Supreme Court verdict in 2018). Some workers and their children had started receiving benefits while many more were hopeful. 
When I visited several construction colonies in Delhi around this time I met an elderly couple both of whom were getting Rs 3,300 each under these laws and this pension had become the main support of their old age. Then there were several others whose school-going children had started getting scholarships under these laws.
However on the whole very few worker households had yet received such benefits, and many more were getting frustrated at not getting any benefits. Another problem related to corrupt practices in the digital registration of workers and issue of cards as genuine workers were being ignored. Despite all this there was hope of better implementation of protective laws in future.
Now with the four codes these hopes have also been dashed to a large extent. The NCC-CL has strongly opposed replacing the hard-won existing rights with the new Codes. The Committee has instead demanded the implementation of the Supreme Court judgment of 2018 on the NCC-CL petition regarding better implementation of the two 1996 legislations.
It has also protested that thousands of crores of rupees already deposited with the boards are not being utilized in a satisfactory way to help construction workers who have faced great difficulties in recent times.
There is overcentralization in labour codes with less role for state governments to take welfare steps more in keeping with local needs
The paper by Chirayu Jain quoted above has stated, “The Codes gnaw away various rights of workers that are presently sanctified in the BOCW Act.” This review states that varying and confusing definitions of workers, building workers, unorganised workers, employees, family and dependent in the two codes SS and OSH will create several problems for workers. 
Instead of the simplicity and clarity of BOCW, we now see possibility of parallel regimes depending on size of establishment. In a confused set-up workers will have to find out where they can fit in.
Getting digital identity cards has been a nightmare for workers even in a big city like Delhi but this is what is now provided along with the mandatory Aadhaar identification. The task of proving 90 days employment in order to avail benefits has been made more difficult. 
Instead of the clear inclusion of all workers in BOCW, the category of contract workers creates more confusion in the new arrangement, and the responsibility for ensuring minimum wage may be fixed to the contractor rather then the main employer.
The mechanism of redressal is being made more difficult. In safety and related matters, inspectors are to be regarded more as facilitators who will mainly confine themselves to checking electronically kept records of employers and go beyond this only in exceptional circumstances. At the same time the role of workers and trade unions in safety matters is reduced. 
There is overcentralization in the codes with less role for state governments to take welfare steps more in keeping with local needs. The new arrangements favor bigger establishments. The government authorities have exceptional power to provide exemptions where they desire. As the review by Chiryu Jain says, “These exemption powers are unprecedented.”
There is thus a clear need for resisting the roll-back of workers’ rights and for demanding that the hard-fought gains achieved by many years of struggles are protected. The BOCW Act had the provision of workers continuing to benefit from some earlier law if it had even better welfare provisions and this proved to be actually the situation in Tamil Nadu.
Can’t the better provisions of BOCW and Cess Acts 1996 in many respects be asserted now? Certainly this issue needs to be taken in a very transparent way among construction workers in their own language so that they understand well the changes now being unleashed and can decide for themselves to what extent their hard-won gains are being lost or diluted.
---
*Journalist and author; recent books include “Man Over Machine” and “India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food”

Comments

TRENDING

'Halt Covid-19 vaccination drive': Indian doctors join campaign across 36 nations

By Rosamma Thomas*  A group of Spanish doctors first got together to call for a halt to the Covid-19 vaccinations, and doctors from other countries too later joined them – there are now over 12,000 doctors from India, Portugal, Canada, Hungary, South Africa, Israel and a host of other nations who have issued a call to halt vaccinations. On September 10, a group of Indian doctors came together to address the press over a webinar to explain why they thought the vaccination drive should end forthwith. Dr Amitav Banerjee, who after a career as an epidemiologist in the Indian Army now teaches at a private medical college in Pune, said there was no longer a medical emergency. Children are at low risk of infection, and there is good reason to halt vaccination and conduct proper research, given the high number of adverse events. There is a sudden and poorly explained spike in the number of young and healthy people dying. While it may be impossible to attribute deaths entirely to the vaccinatio

Did Mother Teresa trivialise poverty? 'You are suffering, that means Jesus is kissing you'

By Harsh Thakor*  The world commemorated the 25th death anniversary of Mother Teresa on September 5. Whatever her flaws, she rendered service to humanity in regions almost untranscended, resembling the relentless spirit of the waves of an ocean. Irrespective of community or religion, she offered her service. Even those not drawn by sainthood revere the role of Mother Teresa. For 68 years, she had worked selflessly and tirelessly in India and elsewhere in the world, taught the destitute, healed the sick, fed and clothed the poor, cared for abandoned children, housed lepers and those afflicted with HIV/AIDS and offered dignity in death to desolate persons abandoned by family and society. Mother Teresa was born in Skopje in 1910 to an Albanian family as AnjezĂ« Gonxhe Bojaxhiu. She became wedded to religious vows at an early age and moved to India to join the missionary work of the Catholic Church. Heartshaken by the misery faced by the Indian masses, in 1950 she set up her own

Tracing roots of Hindutva Zionism: cannon fodder for 'warped' nationalist pretensions

By Shamsul Islam*  Those who believe in a world free of hegemonic ethno-nationalism, racism, religious bigotry and hatred have rightly taken note of Zionism and its ally Christian Zionism, major perpetrators of ethnic cleansing of ‘Others’. However, the civilized world with its core belief in multi-culturalism and peaceful co-existence is oblivious to a no less dangerous threat to the present human civilization: the Hindutva Zionism. As the term reads it is part of the Hindutva world-view which stands for an exclusive Hindu India minus Muslims and Christians. The other religions like Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism will have no independent status but treated as part of Hinduism. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; National Volunteer Organization) is the most prominent flag-bearer of the Hindutva politics whose cadres presently rule India, the largest democracy in the world. RSS was founded by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar (1889-1940) in 1925 who was disillusioned with the Indian freedom st

Regional parties, anti-Congress progressives, civil society groups 'joining' Bharat Jodo

By Harshavardhan Purandare, Sandeep Pandey*  The Congress party declared Bharat Chhodo (Quit India) movement against the British regime in 1942. The Congress party has now launched a movement Bharat Jodo (Connecting and Uniting India) against the Modi regime in 2022. Indian people have had a journey of 80 years since Mahatma Gandhi gave that Quit India call to the British and we have to agree that we stand most divided in our modern history when Rahul Gandhi is giving this Bharat Jodo call to the nation. And back then, Congress was a thriving idealistic political movement against the British rulers and now it is an ever weakening political organization electorally defeated several times. However, it is India at stake, not just the Congress party. That is why so many regional political parties, civil society organizations, traditional anti-Congress progressive forces like socialists and communists, intellectuals and civil servants have declared their support and are proactively partici

Shocking? No Covid vaccine trials conducted on pregnant, lactating women: RTI reply

By Rosamma Thomas*  A Right to Information applicant who sought details of safety trials conducted in India on pregnant and lactating women for three Covid vaccines in use in India – Covishield, Covaxin and ZyCov-D -- was shocked to learn from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) that Serum Institute, manufacturer of Covishield, and Cadila Healthcare, manufacturer of the ZyCov-D vaccine, had not sought permission for such trials.  Bharat Biotech, manufacturer of Covaxin, had sought permission for trial on pregnant women and later withdrawn its application. This response , provided after the applicant was initially unsatisfied with the response and went in appeal, is from the joint drugs controller, CDSCO. It was dated September 13, 2022. One researcher closely following the vaccine rollout, however, is of the opinion that the lack of a trial on pregnant and lactating women is a blessing; potential trial participants and their unborn babies thus escaped harm. Aruna Ro

Grave error? Scholar blames ex-Gujarat babu for anti-Christian riots 'citing fake report'

By Rajiv Shah  A few days back, I received a message from one of the finest former Gujarat government bureaucrats, PG Ramrakhiani, a 1964 batch IAS official, who retired in November 2000. I would often interact with him in 1997-99, even later, after I was sent to Gandhinagar as a Times of India man to cover Sachivalaya. Those were turbulent times. Shankarsinh Vaghela was the Gujarat chief minister, under attack from two sides – from the BJP, which he had left to form a separate breakaway party, Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), one one hand, and the Congress, which was supporting him from outside, on the other. Ramrakhiani, in his message, referred to the book authored by Ghanshyam Shah and Jan Breman, both top-notch scholars who have known Gujarat in and out. Called “Gujarat, Cradle and Harbinger of Identity Politics: India’s Injurious Frame of Communalism”, I reviewed the book in January 2022.  It claims that Muslims in Gujarat have been turned into “new untouchables”, thanks to the Hin

Excess to cheetah in Kuno to increase 'woes' of local people, 'disturb' wildlife balance

Bharat Dogra*  The release of eight cheetahs into the Kuno National Park ( Madhya Pradesh) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 17, although accompanied by a media blitz, has raised several questions. The animals were flown from Namibia to Gwalior and from there they were taken to the release site in a helicopter. Official sources have stated that this is the first time a large carnivorous species has been moved across continents for establishing a new population. This first release will be followed by others under this project. However, precisely for this reason, it is important to be cautious because if such translocations have been generally avoided in the past, there may have been reasons for this and at the same time we do not have much learning experiences from the past. The Cheetah became extinct in India in 1952, although this very fast moving animal is still remembered in the folklore of many areas. Hence the first impulse is to say that trying to introduce and revive

Introducing non-native cheetahs is 'not equivalent' to restoring pride in the nation

By Bappaditya Mukhopadhyay*  The Cheetahs from the African continent has finally been introduced to India by the Indian Prime Minister on his 72nd birthday. The process had started with the previous Government in 2009. However, the Supreme Court clearance was pending owing to the objection by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) plea to reintroduce cheetahs. Finally the clearance was obtained in January 2020 and thereafter Kuno National Park (KNP) was chosen for the reintroduction of first set of Southeast African Cheetahs. In the near future, depending upon the success story of the current reintroduction, more cheetahs from South Africa may also be introduced. This exercise has generated a lot of interest among various stakeholders with opinions on both sides galore. It is important to pose some questions that surround the whole exercise. Let us evaluate some of these arguments. The first set of arguments are quite detached from the issues of conservation as they most

'Military diplomacy': US praises Bangladesh Army for leadership role in UN operations

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder* As the Indo-Pacific region represents the world’s economic and strategic center of gravity, the Indian Ocean today is becoming the centerpiece of all geo-strategic play. Cooperation in the region is crucial to implementing the international community’s global agenda, including achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Major powers like the US have enhanced and deepened their strategic engagement and leadership roles with countries in the region. The Indo-Pacific Army Management Seminar, or IPAMS, is a U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) initiated conference that is aimed at facilitating and enhancing interactions among the armies of the Indo-Pacific region. This year's 46th Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS)-2022, co-hosted by the Bangladesh Army and US Army Pacific (USARPAC), concluded in Dhaka. The objective of IPAMS is to promote peace and stability in the region through mutual understanding, dialogue, and friendship. It is the largest confer

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".