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India’s migrant construction workers: An analysis of their welfare framework

  • Category
    Governance
  • Published
    19th Oct, 2021

Context

The consequence of the widespread coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has shown its devastating consequence on almost every section of society. Construction worker which is one such category of people in the list of affected, which has witnessed unprecedented ‘reverse migration’ during the pandemic.

Background

  • The Covid-19 induced migration was the second-largest mass migration in Indian history after the country’s partition in 1947.
  • Every year migrant workers, usually employed in informal, low skilled, risky jobs in construction, agriculture and domestic work migrate from rural areas to urban centres of economic activities.
  • Low wages coupled with food insecurity further adds to their misery.

Analysis

  • The construction workers by their very nature are nomadic, and they move from site to site for their work and sometimes moves their residences close to the construction sites.
  • Even if they produce a document to prove their residence, the probability is high that it would not correctly reflect their present address.
  • This makes them more vulnerable among others, not only in terms of socio-economic security but also while realising their basic rights.

Construction Worker:

  • They are usually either landless or landowners with small landholdings.
  • They come from poverty-stricken families with low or no level of education.
  • They find work opportunities at building erection work, road making, stone breaking and bricklaying etc.

Statistics on workers:

  • Construction work is a labour-intensive employment option that employs over 74 million people, as stated by NSSO (2016-17).
  • The share of the construction sector to the real growth rate of the gross value added at basic prices has touched8 per cent during 2016-2019.
  • According to census 2011, the interstate migrant worker makes 35.4 percent of all the construction workers in the urban areas.
  • About 26 percent of all households involved in the construction sector have a minimum of three members with at least two working adults from different genders indicating the prevalence of nuclear families with children, which can be considered as associational migrants in construction.

Linkage between Migration and Economy:

  • It is the disequilibrium of the economy that forces the poor unemployed person to migrate from their homes to industrialised urban places.
  • The economic growth of the economically most advanced states in India is more or less an outcome of hard work put on by the migrant workers.
  • Socio-economic reasons like marriages and movement of the earning person in search of employment etc are the main forces that drive migration.

Problem Associated Construction Work:

  • A large section of the working-age migrant population finds employment opportunities in the informal sector of the economy, which had denied them any access to social security benefits owning to nationwide lockdown.
  • It can be said that the spatial distribution of economic growth has been confined to pre-existing and nearby centres of growth. This further aggravates the pre-existing disparities in terms of economic growth and the availability of livelihood opportunities between the resource-poor regions and the cities.

Legal safeguards and Welfare Schemes:

  • Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act (Main Act): It regulates the employment and conditions of service of building and other construction workers and provide for their safety, health and welfare measures.
  • Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act (Cess Act) (BOCWWB): It has provision for the levy and collection of a cess on the cost of construction incurred by employers to supplement the resources of the Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Boards.
  • This measuredirects the institution of Construction workers welfare boards (CWWB), which is a tripartite entity with equal representation from:
    1. Workers
    2. Employers
    3. Government

The Construction Workers Welfare Board (CWWB) is tasked with the duty of register all the construction workers and promote the welfare of the registered workers through the various schemes.

  • Provision for the collection of a cess at the rate of 1 per cent of the total cost of construction is mandated by the above-mentioned legislation in order to provide welfare benefits under state CWWB’s.
  • Indicative welfare benefits are listed out in the Act and include medical assistance, maternity benefits, accident cover, pension, educational assistance for children of workers, assistance to family members in case of death, group insurance, loans, funeral assistance and marriage assistance for children of workers.
  • Provisions in EPF: It provides coverage to all construction workers under the Employees Provident Fund & Miscellaneous Provisions Act 1952. Unfortunately, only 2.2 percent of the total construction workers are availing social security benefits of any kind and only 1.5 percent of regular workers are eligible for benefits from EPF. This depicts the vulnerable condition of the construction migrant workers.

    Prime Minister’s Garib Kalyan Package (PMGKP): Under (PMGKP) financial assistance is given to building & other construction workers (BOCW) which largely included migrant workers from the funds collected under BOCW’s cess.

Flaws in the implementation of Welfare programmes:

  • Sluggishness with regards to registration of workers as the registration rates are not very high. Rates of registration are extremely low in Assam and Bihar (less than 20 percent).
  • The variation in the number of active or valid registration in relation to the total number of registered construction workers.
  • The collection of Cess for the BOCWWB and its proper distribution among workers highlights the issues in the implementation of the mentioned provisions.
  • Under-assessment of Cess is another major concern. In 2019 only 39 percent of the collected Cess has been disbursed to the workers.

    A report from the Parliamentary Standing on labour 2017-18, Ministry of Labour indicate that there are around 55 million construction workers and only 20 million of them would avail benefits in Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) mode.
  • States like Delhi and Chhattisgarh has reported the registration of more than 100 percent, indicating the possibility of duplicate or fraudulent registrations.

Conclusion:

There is an urgent need for the administration to intervene and reduce the gap between Cess collected and money spent on welfare activities under the aegis of CWWB’s. The judicial intervention in few cases appears to be the silver lining. It is going to be a joint effort of the state and the judiciary to realise the benefits to all workers and do away with laxity of any sort in the registration of workers with the boards.

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