Construction workers concerned over move to repeal welfare act

The Hindu | July 17, 2020

Kerala was the first State to set up a welfare board for construction workers in 1989, becoming a model for the Central Act in 1996

The Central Government’s proposed move to repeal 15 existing laws on social security, including the Building and Other Construction Workers Act 1996 (BOCW), and replace them with a single Labour Code on Social Security and Welfare, has led to much concern among construction workers.

Kerala was the first State to set up a welfare board for construction workers in 1989, becoming a model for the Central Act in 1996. It is also one state where the system has wide reach, with 20 lakh construction workers as members, and regular disbursal of various benefits. Across the country, around 3.5 crore workers are registered under such state-level boards for construction workers.

The funds for the running of the welfare board is raised from the 1% building cess levied during construction of buildings. The benefits provided included pension, accident insurance of ₹4 lakhs, medical aid, scholarship for children and around 15 other benefits. In Kerala, the board even runs an old age home for ‘retired’ construction workers in Thiruvananthapuram, perhaps the only such initiative in the country.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, an amount of ₹1,000 was released to all the 20 lakh registered members in Kerala, in addition to monthly pension of ₹1,300 to 3.5 lakh members.

“Once the board stops to have an independent existence, and is merged with other welfare funds, the construction workers stand to lose out, because it is one of the better managed compared to other funds. The Central Government will also get complete control over the fund, and steps like investment of these funds in the stock market, as it happened with PF fund could happen. The welfare fund is one of the biggest sources of support for existing as well as retired workers. We should only strengthen it, not weaken it,” said V.Sasikumar, Secretary of the Construction Workers’ Federation of India.

On Monday, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions(CITU) organised nationwide protests with five workers in each centre, against the move.

CPI(M) Rajya Sabha MP Elamaram Kareem, a member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour, says that the Central Act was enacted in 1996 after more than a decade of struggle by workers, and hence the repealing is unjust.

“This is part of the BJP Government’s plans to repeal all existing labour laws and merge them into four separate codes. One of the codes has already been passed in the Parliament without referring to the labour standing committee. The remaining three are in front of the standing committee. Due to the pandemic, the discussions have been held up. Now, under the centre’s pressure the meeting has been fixed on July 17, but many of us would be unable to make it to Delhi. The Speaker has also denied permission for an online meeting,” said Mr.Kareem.