AAP’s love for labour lost in official apathy

While 47,000 construction workers receive benefits in Delhi, AAP’s new doorstep delivery initiative was able to register only 200 applicants out of  2,000 requests

While 47,000 construction workers receive benefits in Delhi, AAP’s new doorstep delivery initiative was able to register only 200 applicants out of  2,000 requests

For construction workers in Delhi who faced a severe hit in the Covid induced lockdown this year, the AAP-led government brought forward a new plan to allow workers to register themselves, allowing them to avail benefits. 

The new doorstep delivery initiative has in the last week received 2,000 calls, an official with the labour department told Patriot. Out of these, just over 200 have gone on to being registered to receive benefits. The numbers are expected to rise, according to the official, who says the process had been affected “due to some server problems”.

The focus on registration of construction workers is important to avail benefits as the Delhi Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board, the nodal body to provide benefits, only recognises workers which are registered with it.

The registration through doorstep delivery is one which the government hopes would stop middlemen from taking advantage of construction workers who would take their help for registration.

Siddheshwar Shukla, a member in the welfare board, says during the lockdown construction workers went to internet cafés to get forms filled, “They charged exorbitantly, up to Rs 500-700 to fill up a form. They say this (doorstep delivery) will resolve the problem but I don’t think so, I think they should open multiple centres for registration instead.”

“As a construction workers union leader, we have our doubts on how well they will be able to do this. When construction workers go for registration to the labour office, they aren’t able to do it. They are hassled, and face problems with verifications. Now how well can a service like doorstep delivery happen easily? I am principally not against the idea but only question how it can be successful. Construction workers keep moving around, a service like doorstep delivery would not work.”

He also has a bone to pick with the new labour minister Deputy Chief minister Manish Sisodia who made the announcement of the doorstep delivery. “The board takes such decisions, but in the past seven months we have not had a single meeting, Manish ji makes the announcements (decisions) himself. He has no experience in the construction sector, and he doesn’t take advice from those who do”.

Shukla is also the secretary of Rajdhani Bhavan Nirman Kamgar Union, a construction workers’ body backed by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), which had in early November protested for the government to release the third instalment of the financial assistance – Rs 5,000 each– for the construction workers promised during the lockdown.

During the lockdown, tens of thousands were rendered jobless. The Delhi government provided many in need with food supplies and other essentials, while also promising monetary benefits of Rs 5,000 to the construction workers – many of whom hail from Odisha, Bengal and Bihar.  

Shukla says that till now, many are yet to receive the full amount that had been promised to them. According to the labour official we spoke with, currently, there are 47,000 construction workers who have received Rs 10,000 (each) in government benefits. Many of them are those who got themselves registered in the camps that were set up by the Delhi government from 24 August – 11 November where more than 20,000 workers had registered themselves.

Sisodia has said that they aim to get one million construction workers registered and verified in the coming months. “Every single construction worker in Delhi will be registered in the welfare board, and the government will work towards serving the city-builders of Delhi. The minister has exhorted the officials to remove unnecessary bottlenecks for registration and verification of construction workers,” read a press statement issued by Sisodia’s office.

Delhi CITU president Virendra Gaur says the government must first look into labour offices which are short staffed – unable to carry out registrations in a timely manner when workers visit the offices.

For Gaur, while construction workers in the city must be registered and receive their benefits, what also worries the Union leader are the new labour laws, under the Code on Wages, Industrial Relations Code and Social Security Code.

Pointing out to the Industrial Relations Code which set out a change in rule making it imperative for an industrial establishment with more than 300 workers to furnish a standing order, which earlier was at 100 workers. Establishments hiring 100 or more workers had earlier needed government permission for closure, layoffs or retrenchments.

“This government has been proved to be anti-national, anti-people and anti-workers. Why I use the word anti-national is because the workers and farmers are a part of this country, and they (Centre) are doing things against them. They are being proved as the government of Adani and Ambani. Like how earlier there would be mandis for mazdoors, in some time if things go as they are there will be mandis again where mazdoor will have to stand.”

“The most detrimental effect which will be felt is by the organised sector. Despite all the rules and regulations workers don’t get justice there. When these rules are done away with then one can imagine what the state will be like.”

He hopes though that the Delhi government will not introduce the changes, as promised by the previous labour minister. “When Gopal Rai had become the labour minister, I had attended a convention. There he had said if the Central government brings amendments to the labour laws, we will not implement them in Delhi. So, I want to remind them about this – the person may have changed but they are the labour minister and of the same party and must stick to that promise.”

(Cover: THE INTENT: Construction workers were charged Rs 500-700 by internet cafe centres to fill up forms during the lockdown, to avail benefits. The doorstep delivery service is to ensure smooth, hasslefree service to them       REPRESENTATIONAL IMAGE: GETTY )

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