As part of a nationwide campaign aimed at drawing attention to the lack of savings and inadequate social security measures for the working population during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, construction workers in Haryana on Tuesday (June 8) staged a demonstration at block levels across the state.
Led by the Construction Workers’ Federation of India (CWFI) – Haryana unit, affiliated with Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU, the workers pressed for their demands that include cash assistance of Rs. 7,500 per month to each engaged in construction work, along with an assurance of free treatment for those infected with COVID-19.
Tuesday’s protest also marks the beginning of the statewide campaign by the construction workers’ union to demand for a more robust functioning of the state welfare board, especially when it comes to providing assistance to the vulnerable workforce in the state. In culmination of the same, the union has given a call to gherao the Sirsa residence of state Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Singh Chautala in the first week of August.
Sukhbir Singh, national president, CWFI, who participated in Tuesday’s protest programme, told NewsClick that demonstrations were staged at all the blocks in the state. Memorandums, addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and state Deputy CM Chautala, were submitted to the concerned officials in respective districts, according to him.
“The construction activities were affected hugely due to the recent lockdown restrictions in Haryana. Yet, the state government didn’t care to announce any help for the construction workers,” Singh said.
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In a bid to contain the COVID-19 spread, the coalition government – of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Jannayak Janata Party – in the state had imposed restrictions on movement and economic activities on May 3. Earlier this week, these restrictions were once again extended till June 14, albeit with certain relaxations.
Meanwhile, throughout this period, construction work at real estate sites is only allowed wherever labour is available on site.
The Haryana Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare, a statutory body, is tasked with ensuring welfare of the construction workforce in the state. For the same, the law requires employers including the government, public and private sector along with, individuals to pay a welfare cess – amounting as 1% of the construction cost – to the board.
The benefits for a registered worker with the board include medical assistance and paid maternity leaves, among others. Active membership of a construction worker with the welfare board is the prerequisite to claim the benefits mandated by the latter.
The ground realities are, however, grim, alleges the union, with majority of the construction workforce, owing to their non-registration with the welfare board, bereft of any benefits. “Even for those who are registered, the process to claim any assistance from the [welfare] board is extremely slow; the workers’ applications are often outrightly rejected by officials for no reason,” Singh alleged.
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As per the union’s estimates, there are over 20 lakh construction workers in the state of Haryana, majority of whom are daily wagers, and only one-fourth of them are actively registered with the welfare board currently.
Rallying behind these issues, the union will launch a village-level awareness programme later this month. “We will organised Jan Sabhas in every village in Haryana. In the first week of August, we will gherao the Sirsa residence of [Deputy CM] Dushyant Chautala,” Singh told NewsClick. Chautala currently holds the charge of the State Labour and Employment ministry, along with others.
Meanwhile, a 10-day national campaign has been launched by Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU) from June 1 to June 10 to bring to the fore the demands that address the “problems relating to health and livelihood that are faced by the working people during the Corona(virus) period.”
The central trade union, through a 13-point charter, is demanding cash assistance for non-income tax payees, free ration for those in need, among others. “Tuesday’s protest in Haryana was staged as part of the CITU’s nationwide campaign,” Surekha, president of CITU – Haryana unit said.
Earlier, the all-women Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) workers in the state had also staged demonstrations, she said. “The different workforces in the state will continue to protest till their demands are heard,” Surekha claimed.