NEW DELHI: The Central government’s direction to states and Union Territories to use unutilised welfare funds to provide relief to construction workers is set to leave over a third of the 5 crore-strong workforce in the lurch, since they remain unregistered with any labour welfare board.
With construction work grinding to a halt after the announcement of a 21-day lockdown, millions of workers have been left without work or wages.
The country’s state and UT administrations collect a mandatory welfare cess from all projects for construction workers under the Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW) Act.
So far, around Rs 52,000 crore has been collected as BOCW Welfare Cess, of which around Rs 31,000 crore remains unutilised. Union Minister for Labour and Employment Santosh Kumar Gangwar had on Tuesday written to states and UTs, advising them to use these funds to transfer cash directly to the bank accounts of construction workers registered with labour welfare boards.
“The amount to be granted… may be decided by the respective governments,” Gangwar had said.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, while talking to reporters after announcing relief measures on Thursday, said “there are 3.5 crore registered workers.”
However, the Government of India’s estimates on its official Invest India website puts the total number of workers in the construction sector at 5.1 crore.
Labour unions place the number even higher. “There are 6 crore construction workers in total in the country. Only 3.5 crore are registered with welfare boards. The rest will not get anything through this move,” said V Sashikumar, general secretary of the Construction Workers Federation of India (CWFI), a unit of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). A large portion of the CWFI’s 10 lakh member workers have been left stranded with no wages due to the lockdown, Sashikumar said.
Punjab, Himachal lead from the front
State governments have already begun announcing direct cash transfers to registered construction workers from their Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW) Welfare funds, with some like Punjab (Rs 3,000 a month) and Himachal Pradesh (Rs 1,000 a month) doing so before any directive from the Central government.