Welfare Framework of India’s Migrant Construction Workers

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    • The COVID-19 pandemic had widespread and devastating consequences to communities and enterprises in India and across the globe.
      • The situation was particularly grim for the 453.6 million internal migrants in India.
        • It was evident by the unprecedented ‘reverse migration’ witnessed during the pandemic.
    • e-Shram portal has been launched to register 38 crore unorganised workers by the Ministry of Labour and Employment.
      • It is not a panacea and there are more structural and administrative problems faced by migrant construction workers.
    • There are prominent shortcomings in implementation, especially registration of workers and collection and distribution of Cess.

    Status of Construction Sector and Migrant Construction Workers

    • Construction Sector and Employment:
      • Contribution of the construction sector to the real growth rate of the gross value added at basic prices reached 6.8 percent during 2016-2019.
        • It was one of the worst-hit sectors during the pandemic.
      • It is also one of the key sectors in which India’s migrant workforce find employment.
        • The NSSO (2016-17) puts the number of construction workers in the country at over 74 million.
      • Interstate migrant workers make 35.4 percent of all the construction workers in the country’s urban areas, according to the 2001 Census. 
        • Of all the interstate migrants in India who move out of the farm sector, construction absorbs around 9.8 per cent.
        • It is the second most preferred sector for migrant workers after retail.
    • Family Structure of Migrant Construction Workers:
      • Furthermore, 26 percent of all households with migrant workers employed in the construction sector have nuclear families.
        • This can be viewed as associational migrants in construction.
      • The Jan Sahas Survey conducted at the beginning of the lockdown (March 27-29, 2020), found that 
        • 54 percent of construction workers support 3 to 5 people, while 
        • 32 percent support more than 5 people.

    Vulnerability of Construction Sector and Reasons

    • Vulnerability and reasons: The prime reason behind the vulnerability of construction workers are:
      • Informal Employment and Unorganised Sector
        • A large section of the working-age migrant population in India finds employment in the informal economy.
      • No or meagre access to Social Security
        • They are often denied any access to social security benefits upon stoppage of work due to lockdown.
      • Urban Centres of Growth and Regional Inequality
        • The spatial distribution of economic growth and prosperity in India in the past 25 years has been agglomerated in-and-around pre-existing centres of growth.
        • This has accentuated the pre-existing disparities between the cities and the resource-poor regions of this country. 
        • This has resulted in a stupendous rise of the construction industry, particularly in the major metropolitan centres.

    Legal safeguards

    • Two acts constituted in 1996 address the issues faced by the construction workers.
      • The Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act and
      • The Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act
    • These legislatures mandated the institution of a Construction Workers Welfare Board (CWWB).
      • It is a tripartite entity with equal representation from workers, employers and the government.
      • Aim of CWWB:
        • To register all construction workers in the state and 
        • To promote the welfare of registered construction workers through various schemes, measures or facilities.
      • Funded by: Cess at the rate of 1 percent of the total cost of construction
    • Indicative welfare benefits are listed out in Section 22 of the Act.
      • They 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. 

    Shortcomings in implementation

    • There are some prominent shortcomings in implementation, especially with regards to 
      • Registration of workers
      • The Collection and Distribution of the Cess. 

    Table: State-wise number of construction & registered workers (Source: DTE)

    • Registration of workers
      • The table above shows that there are approx. 55 million construction workers.
      • Based on the estimation, about 35%-40% of the construction workers would be unable to avail the benefits given out by the DBT mode. 
      • Prime reasons behind the fact:
        • The registration rates are not very high.
        • The estimates show that only 52.5 per cent of all construction workers were registered in 2017.
        • Rates of registration are extremely low in 
          • Assam and Bihar (< 20 percent); 
          • in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh, it is lower than the national average. 
        • Possibility of duplicate and fraudulent registrations
          • However, states like Delhi and Chhattisgarh reported a registration rate of more than 100 percent. 
          • It indicates the possibility of duplicate and fraudulent registrations. 

    Fig: State Wise Cess collected for and spent on construction workers (Source: DTE)

    • The Collection and Distribution of the Construction Workers’ Cess.
      • There is no proper mechanism for the collection  and transfer of said cess as per the 38th standing committee on labour of the Lok sabha.
      • The committee also reported an under-assessment of Cess
      • As of 2019, only 39 per cent of the collected Cess has been disbursed to the workers. 
      • Some of the states like together contribute more than 70 per cent in the total construction gross value added (GVA)
        • but their contribution to the total Cess amounts to only 37 percent
        • They are Kerala, Tamil Nadu, UP, West Bengal, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh.
        • In spite of being the biggest collector of Cess, Maharashtra spends very little (5.4 per cent)
    • Not able to Avail the relief measures of EPF
      • Almost all the migrant construction workers are not be able to avail the relief measures offered by the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF), as 
        • such benefits can only be availed by the formal workers registered as contributing members of the EPFO.
      • The formal employment represents only a small percentage of the total construction workers in India.
      • As estimated by the Periodic Labour Force Survey 2018-2019, the construction sector employs 
        • 83 percent casual and 
        • 11 percent self-employed workers. 
      • Only 5.7 percent of the workers work on a regular basis, of which 3.9 percent are informal and only 1.6 percent are regular formal workers.
      • Overall, only 2.2 per cent of the total construction workers are availing some kind of social security benefits.

    Conclusion and Way Ahead

    • The administration should ensure that the gap between Cess collected and money spent on welfare activities through CWWBs is reduced.
    • The silver lining has been the intervention by the judiciary in a few cases.
    • Recently, in July 2020, the Delhi HC asked the Delhi government to see if registration of 10 workers with the BOCWW board can be verified online.
    • Also, there should be “no laxity” in registration of workers with the Board, through which they could get ex-gratia of Rs 5,000 during the pandemic.
    • The state and the judiciary should step up and enable provision of benefits to all workers.

    Source: DTE