Following the announcement of nationwide pandemic control measures in India on March 24, 2020, tens of thousands of daily-wage migrant workers in India suddenly found themselves without jobs or a source of income. At inter-state bus terminals and railway stations in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru, thousands of such workers gathered, waiting to be evacuated back to their homes. According to the government's data, more than 1.14 crore inter-state migrant workers returned to their home-states. Many of them worked in the construction industry, the second largest source of work in India, after agriculture. Nearly all construction workers (almost all 56 million of them) are part of India's 411 million informal workers.
The significant majority of work in India, over 90% of it by most accounts, is informal. These workers do not benefit from social security schemes such as employee state insurance and the provident fund. They are also not protected by the laws that regulate employment, such as the Factories Act. For example, informal workers have no legal right to paid leave. The events that unfolded after the “lockdown” announcement left us in little doubt about the very real effects of these wide gaps in the law.
The visible ejection of informal workers during the pandemic lockdown from Indian cities, including nearly all its construction workers, shed light on their lack of any meaningful social security. As part of the relief package announced by the government, the labour ministry announced a scheme that would credit 24% of wages into the provident fund accounts of those eligible. But only 1.5% of India’s construction workers, part of the mere 5.7% that work on a regular basis, are contributing members of the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation and thus eligible for such PF-related benefits. The remaining overwhelming majority of construction workers could hope to qualify for another relief measure announced by the government: direct benefit transfers to the accounts of workers registered under the Building and other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 (“the BoCW Act”) using the Building and Other Construction Workers cess (“BoCW cess”) funds. In most cases, the BoCW system was the rusted and creaking infrastructure used to deliver social security benefits to construction work.
In this episode, we learn about the campaigns that contributed to building the BoCW system - the welfare infrastructure that became law in 1996 and in 2020, would be used to provide Rs. 2250 crores worth of emergency pandemic relief to 18 million construction workers.
You will learn from:
R Geetha, the southern regional coordinator of the national campaign committee for a comprehensive legislation on construction labour (NCCCL-CL)
Subhash Bhatnagar, national co-ordinator of the NCCCL-CL
Rina Agarwala, Professor of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University
Chirayu Jain, Delhi-based advocate
Shruti Herbert, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at University of Edinburgh
"Dial W for Wage Theft - the India Labour Line Story: Sushovan Dhar, Sanotsh Poonia, Shreehari Paliath, Chandan Kumar", The Nagrik Podcast
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"Labour Code Lecture Series: Lecture 3 - The Code on Social Security, 2020", Working People's Coalition