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West Bengal: Construction Workers Hold Protest Rallies Across State During 2-Day Strike

Workers demand strengthening of welfare boards, no tinkering with cess and are opposed to merger of the Act concerned with the labour codes.
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Kolkata:  Ravi Hati is currently working on a site beside the EM Bypass, and is involved in the construction of a 24-storey high-rise being made by infrastructure major L&T.

However, paying heed to the Construction Workers’ Federation of India’s (CWFI) call for a two-day strike on December 2-3, he has not gone for work, losing his two-day daily wages. Asked why he was doing so, Ravi said he had no option as the workers were suffering due to the proposed withdrawal of social security and other benefits by the Union government.

“Our employers too will reduce cess if the present stalemate regarding cess continues,” he says.

Read Also: 2-Day Strike: ‘Need a Govt That Doesn’t Turn its Back on us’, say Construction Workers

Ravi is part of thousands of construction workers who have joined the two-day strike throughout the country called by CWFI, affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions.

The CWFI has been demanding that the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act should not be merged with the Code on Occupational Health & Safety and service conditions.

The striking workers are also demanding that the welfare boards for construction workers be strengthened by supporting pension expenditure. Also, they want protection of the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 and the Building and other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act (BOCW), 1996 and the Cess Act of 1998.

While the economic slowdown and pandemic-induced lockdown had further worsened the condition of construction workers, their wages have always been poor.

About 10 years ago, our daily wage rates used to be Rs 270 -300, but the current rate has been kept at the same level by contractors and employers, he alleged.

Ravi told Newsclick that construction workers who were unable to migrate from one state to another were worse off as they were bringing home a measly Rs 250/day after deduction of tiffin charges. He claimed many had died by suicide, as per latest figures available with CWFI.

After the massive displacement and loss of livelihoods of lakhs of migrant workers after the sudden lockdown in march 2020, the Supreme Court’s directive to financially help unorganised sector workers is not being uniformly implemented.

Ravu alleged that the present Trinamool Congress (TMC) government in West Bengal was maintaining a “stoic silence” silence on the matter, adding that during the previous Left Front regime (prior to 2011), construction workers were covered by provident fund schemes or other social security networks. 

“In the 11 years of TMC rule most of these networks have been closed,” he alleged.

Speaking to NewsClick, CWFI national vice-president Debanjan Chakraborty, said the apathy shown to construction by Central and state governments was on “an equal footing”, adding that both were  “anti- working class”.

He alleged that “slowly but steadily” all social security schemes of the state government meant for construction workers has been closed down even as was rubbing shoulders with corporate honchos in the global trade summit.

According to CSFI, in North Dinajpur district, over 50% construction workers joined the two-day strike and took out a rally in Raiganj  town and in Kaligunj area. In West Medinipore, too, rallies supporting the strike were taken out in several areas as also in North 24 Parganas district. In most areas, including the construction hub in Rajarhaat area, workers took out rallies and demanded that the existing construction workers welfare law should not be scrapped.

They also demanded payment of pension after 60 years, stop to illegal sand mining in the area and also outlined the problems they were facing in registration and applying for benefits through the e-portal set up by the Central government.

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