Welfare Board Owns Rs 4,000 Crore, Construction Workers Benefit Little
Construction workers protesting in Dindigul district. Image courtesy: CITU Tamil Nadu.
The Construction Workers Federation of India (CWFI) in Tamil Nadu held a statewide protest on October 20 demanding an increase in pension from Rs 1,000 to Rs 3,000, Rs 2 lakh assistance to the family in case of death of the earning member and sufficient accident cover.
A list of monetary benefits had been drafted by the Construction Workers Welfare Board (CWWB) based on a Supreme Court ruling and proposed to the state government in 2019. The construction workers are outraged that neither the former AIADMK government nor the ruling DMK alliance paid heed to the board’s proposal. Terming the present benefits as a pittance, the workers said that they don’t have financial security due to the informal nature of the sector and demanded sufficient assistance.
DEMANDS OF WORKERS
Addressed to the state government, the CWFI released a charter of demands in line with the welfare board’s suggestions. Anyone aged above 60 and registered with the state government is entitled to a pension of Rs 1,000. The CWFI demanded increasing the pension amount to Rs 3,000. The union also demanded pension for women construction workers who are 55 years or more and widow pension for the wives of dead construction workers from the day of their death.
Financial assistance for the education of children of construction workers from class I onwards and maternity benefits to their wives were some of the other monetary benefits proposed by the board and demanded by the union. They also demanded a festive bonus ahead of Diwali.
The workers also demanded easing the process of registration with the CWWB. “Making OTP and Aadhaar mandatory should be repealed,” read the CWFI pamphlet and insisted on continuing with offline registration.
WHY IS THE STATE GOVERNMENT HESITANT?
According to the CWFI, though the CWWB has funds amounting to more than Rs 4,000 crore, the state government has not accepted its proposals.
When asked why the government is hesitant to provide for the workers, Perumal, president, state CWFI, told Newsclick, “The Supreme Court directive makes it mandatory to increase the overall monetary benefits to the construction workers. The state government has not implemented the court order despite the availability of funds with the board.”
Supporting the demand for the monetary benefits, Perumal said, “The workers are demanding financial assistance from the board, which has the cess funds, not from the government exchequer. The government cannot use the welfare board’s funds for other purposes.”
The Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act and the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act were enacted in 1996 to address the issues faced by the construction workers. These legislatures mandate the institution of a Construction Workers Welfare Board in every state comprising representation from workers, employers and the government.
The CWWB must register all the construction workers in the state and promote their welfare through various schemes, measures or facilities. However, the board has been unable to push its proposals with the state government.
CWFI state-level leader Natarajan said, “The government is worried that if the construction workers are provided for, then other sectors will also raise demands.”
NEED FOR FINANCIAL SECURITY
Within two days of the statewide agitation, the Tamil Nadu government passed an order providing financial assistance to students from class 6 onwards though the demand was from class 1 onwards.
Perumal said, “Even Karnataka does better than Tamil Nadu. Tens of thousands of rupees are provided to children of construction workers who seek higher education. The Supreme Court had clearly stated that financial assistance to the construction workers should be given from the welfare boards and not from government funds. Neighbouring Pondicherry, Karnataka and Kerala provide festive bonuses and better funds to their construction workers and more financial assistance for the education of their children. Why stops Tamil Nadu from doing the same?”
Since the welfare board is the “only security for the construction workers, who are in the informal sector and slog like cattle, the government must implement our demands”, Perumal added.
Natarajan said that since construction involves intense labour, the health of the workers is severely affected much before their retirement. These monetary benefits are the only ray of hope for them.”
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