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Women Construction Workers Demand Equal pay for Equal Work

The national convention of women construction workersin Kanniyakumari also demanded a law against sexual harassment in the workplace.

CWFI general secretary UP Joseph addresses the national convention of women construction workers in Kanniyakumari, Tamil Nadu, on Monday.

Around 70 lakh women employed in the construction sector are severelyexploited. Besides being paid much less than men, they face sexual harassment in the workplace. 

With more women joining the sector, the demand for equal wages for

equal work, prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace and toilet facilities has gained momentum.

The national convention of women construction workers, organised by the Construction Workers Federation of India (CWFI) in Kanniyakumari on Monday, raised a national charter of eight demands, including bridging the yawning gap between wages paid to men and women.

The report of the Primus Partners and World Trade Centre on the construction and real estate sector in India in January revealed that women workers are paid 30%-40% lessthan men. Irrespective of the number of years they work, women are considered unskilled workers, earn low wages and face the risk of losing jobs. 

The convention also urged state governments to provide financial

aid to women workers for the education of their children, inclusive medical insurance for enrolled workers, maternity benefits and pension after 55 years. 

The convention also demanded the proper implementation of the 2006

National Creche Scheme. The participants alleged that the Centre had diluted the Scheme by reducing the budgetary allocation.

“The allocation for the Scheme has decreased by 59% between FY19 and FY22. Moreover, 11,582 of the 18,040 creches under the Scheme were shut down between FY18 and FY20, the delegates said. 

Around 200 women construction workers from several states mentionedthe problems they face, like the failure to effectively implement The Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996, ensuring appropriate aid for workers.

Sonali Deb Sharma, a district-level CWFI office-bearer in West Bengal, accused the All India Trinamool Congress government of redirecting Rs 1,600 crore from the construction workers welfare board to other purposes. 

“The government has been undemocratic in multiple ways since assuming power in 2011. The mishandling of the welfare board’s money is no different. The government is spending the money on fairs while workers haven’t been paid pensions for, at least, two years,” she told NewsClick

“The government threatens sexual violence victims, especially tribals, using the police if they speak up. Fearing police action, most victims remain silent,” Sharma added. 

With a large presence in Kerala, construction workers have won decisive battles to ensure the smooth functioning of the welfare board but have raised concerns about the Centre’s actions. 

“The state has had a welfare board since 1989 when the Left DemocraticFront was in power. In recent years, the board has been paying for several schemes, including financial aid for maternity benefits, due to the lack of allocation of Central funds,” Shafirunissa, a construction worker from Malappuram district, told NewsClick. “The board may soon face a financial crunch.”

Kerala construction workers have also accused the Centre of implementing laws affecting the sector, including the blanket ban on quarrying in areas adjacent to forests.

“Construction workers, particularly women, are losing jobs since constructing buildings and quarrying is banned in buffer zones. There should be regulations on exploiting natural resources, but a blanket ban leads to the loss of livelihood for lakhs of workers,” Shafirunissa said. 

The workers also highlighted the “drastic reduction” in scholarships for their children.    

“Though free bus travel and the monthly financial aid help women workers, the drastic reduction in education scholarship for children has badly affected them,” Lakshmi, an organiser of women construction workers in Bengaluru, told NewsClick

“The scholarship ranged from Rs 11,000 to Rs 75,000 for primary to

medical education. Now, it has been cut from Rs 1,100 to Rs 11,000, which is unacceptable,” she said. 

The CWFI urged the state government to regulate the registration

of construction workers on the board as ineligible people are registeringthrough different e-service centres.

“Large numbers of registration, even by people unrelated to

construction, is affecting the eligible workers. They are not getting laptops and education scholarships for their children and pensions,” Lakshmi alleged.

Demands for better compensation for natural and accidental deaths, permanent disabilities, marriage support and maternity benefits were also raised. 

“We have demanded free treatment for registered workers at private

and government hospitals during minor and major illnesses or accidents without restricting the number of hospitals,” Lakshmi said. 

She said that state governments must ensure equal wages for men

and women in construction projects. “They can set an example, at least, in such instances.” 

The convention also passed resolutions seeking an immediate halt

to the Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip, implementation of 33%

reservation for women in Assemblies and Parliament, withdrawal of cases filed under the UAPA against NewsClick’s editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha and ensuring a monthly minimum wage of Rs 26,000.

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