[ecis2016.org] We look at some of the measures that finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced in the Union Budget 2021-22 that are likely to benefit labourers in the construction industry
Over 50 million people are employed in the construction sector, the third-largest employer in the country. However, when it comes to access to a conducive work environment, policies and funds have failed most of these workers. In 1996 the Parliament passed the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 (BOCW Act) and the Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Cess Act, 1996 (Cess Act). With this, the government levied a 1% cess, on the cost of construction. The money collected was supposed to be used for the welfare of those employed in the informal construction sector. Unfortunately, the Rs 28,000 crores collected ever since has remained unused. Till 2018, only Rs 9,500 crores out of a corpus of Rs 37,400 crores was spent.
Formal intervention by authorities is, therefore, necessary to bring about a change. Tabling her third union budget on February 1, 2021, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the following measures:
One Nation One Ration Card
Through this scheme, beneficiaries can claim their rations anywhere in the country. Migrant workers, in particular, benefit from this scheme – those staying away from their families can partially claim their ration where they are stationed, while their families, in their native places, can claim the rest. The scheme is currently under implementation in 32 states and union territories and has a target of 69 crore beneficiaries.
Portal to collect information
The unorganised labour force poses a big challenge for authorities, financial institutions and any other body that seeks to collect adequate information about them. For example, take the PMAY scheme. A pertinent issue is to gather data about the rightful beneficiaries and provide them with financial assistance. In the absence of data on credit score or Aadhaar card, it becomes a daunting task for all the concerned authorities. Hence, the FM has proposed to launch a portal that will collect information related to migrant workers. This will help formulate health, housing, skill, insurance, credit and food schemes for such workers.
Social security and benefits for women workers
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“Minimum wages will apply to all categories of workers and they will all be covered by the Employees State Insurance Corporation,” announced the Finance Minister in Budget 2021, thereby, rolling out social security benefits for the poor. For women, Sitharaman announced flexibility to work in night-shifts with protection.
Industry intervention is essential to welfare of construction workers
Many corporates have paid heed to this alarming issue and intervention comes through as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives of these companies. On October 22, 2019, CBRE South Asia Pvt Ltd launched its foundation in India, CBRE Cares- Ek Pehal, to address the health and nutrition-related concerns of families of migrant workers.
Anshuman Magazine, Chairman and CEO, India, South East Asia, Middle East and Africa said, “Initially the plan is to raise Rs 5 crores, which will be scaled further. Going forward, we would also collaborate with the government to strengthen our efforts. Common issues faced by construction workers and their families include unsafe environment, neglect, malnutrition and lack of access to quality healthcare. Pregnant women end up giving birth on the site and are on their toes just a few hours later to continue with work. We wish to address such challenges in an organised way.”
Robert E Sulentic, president and CEO of CBRE Group, said, “This initiative will bring a positive change in the lives of migrant workers and their families at various locations. I hope it will motivate others to join this noble cause.” The preliminary plan is to begin with work in Delhi, Bengaluru and Mumbai and extend it to all the 10 Indian locations from where it operates, confirmed Magazine.
In Bengaluru, the labour department is looking to introduce mobile creches for the children of construction workers to provide them with a comfortable environment. An official was quoted saying, “Old BMTC and KSRTC buses that are discarded will be procured and given a new look with the help of artists. It will be made colourful to attract kids and will have a children-friendly atmosphere with toys and books inside them. These creches will be given to NGOs who will run them. There are plans to give healthy snacks to the children in the morning.”
Job instability also wrecks many engaged in this field. Sometime back, workers under the aegis of Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) organised a petition drive demanding compensation owing to job loss because of the shortage of sand. They also asked for financial aid as well as free medical facilities.
The Punjab government too, issued a notification informing that the Model Welfare Scheme for construction workers will be in place for all registered workers. Thus, benefits under the Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana, Ayushman Bharat Scheme, maternity benefits, Shagun benefits for the marriage of girl child, etc., will be provided.
Other big and small cities and states have also launched various initiatives for the benefit of construction workers. However, most of these often end up in a pile gathering dust and little attention.
Lack of government will ailing welfare of construction workers
Last year, the Supreme Court pulled up the centre and the states saying that very little effort was put in to meeting the intended target. The apex court had also directed for formulation of a model policy to bring these casual workers within the formal fold within six months, which would have ideally been September 2018.
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Unfortunately, even the Comproller and Auditor General of India did not have the figures on construction cess collection. “If this constitutional body (CAG) doesn’t have the required and accurate information, there is undoubtedly a financial mess in this area and this chaos has been existing since 1996. The only victims of this extremely unfortunate state of affairs and official apathy are construction workers who suffer from multiple vulnerabilities,” it said. The court also noted that given that the four-crore strong workforce in the construction sector is able to come out with only 1.5 crore registered workers, which in itself is an apathy. It directed the authorities to treat the workers formally with benefits such as social security, minimum wages, paid maternity as well as pension.
Parveen Jain, vice-chairman, National Real Estate Development Council (NAREDCO) and CMD, Tulip Infratech, says, “For the safety of construction workers helmets, gloves, rubber boots and other safety paraphernalia are provided. A medical room with a doctor and medical facilities is also available at the construction site along with an ambulance. We also have a school for the education of children of the construction workers at Tulip sites. Here proper classes are conducted for small children of the construction workers for their education and welfare. Besides these initiatives, help in various forms like monetary or clothing is provided from time to time. Also, appropriate training is given to the construction workers to work properly and methodically.”
Satish Magar, president of CREDAI national says, “Over the next decade, there is a requirement of 45 million additional skilled manpower in the Indian realty and construction sector. Hence, the focus on up-skilling and skilling is paramount. Skilling is one of our core agendas for 2020 and we whole-heartedly support the ‘Skill India’ mission. We have a dedicated team working in this vertical. CREDAI has trained more than 1.25 lakh construction workers under various CSR and government schemes and has also signed an MoU with Construction Sector Skill Council (CSDCI), to certify 1 lakh workers under the RPL-4 (Recognition of Prior Learning-4) scheme.”
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