Condition of Construction Workers in South India – A Workshop Report in Chennai

December 3, 2016

This article has been reprinted from

Discussions on strengthening Social Security, Occupational Safety and condition of Migrants

Nirman Mazdoor Panchayat Sangh, Chennai, and National Campaign Committee for Central Legislation on Construction Workers organized a workshop on ‘Implementation of Central Acts on Building and Other Construction Workers in South India’ on 10th November 2016.

Leaders and members of various unions brainstormed about ways to better implement Building and Other Construction Workers Act.


The meeting was presided by Subhash Bhatnagar, convener of the campaign committee. Justice Hariparantham (retd Madras High Court), delivering the key note address, said that the division of workers into contract and permanent employees was a form of caste-ism.

Citing the case of Food Corporation of India, he said “ like the varna system, on top are the permanent workers, below them come the piece rate workers and then the daily reserve workers whose terms of work is even worse”.

He cited cases where contract workers were not entitled to the benefits of the permanent workers even when they usually carried a higher burden of work. He said “(payment of wages) Act clearly says equal pay for equal work but it is not followed almost anywhere”.

Speaking about the poor implementation in welfare boards, Subhash Bhatnagar said that over 10 crore of the Indian working population are involved in Construction work yet the sector suffers severe lack of legislative oversight, saying “while 36 states and UTs have setup welfare boards in their respective states, the implementation suffers from chronic problems.

Primarily the boards are under staffed. There are no dedicated senior officers for the boards and human resource is supplied by Labour departments”. “While there are 10000 admin staff alone for ESI and another 1200 central staff for P.F, why cant the governments have dedicated employees for the welfare boards rather than deputed officers?” he demanded.

NP Sami from Karnatakka, presented a report on the functioning of welfare boards, highlighting the poor levels of disbursals against collection. Commenting on the falling levels of disbursal in various states, he said “Rajasthan gives greater protection to cows than those who take care of the cows”.

The condition is similar in UP where only Rs 150 crore have been disbursed as against a collection of Rs 1500 cr. In Delhi too the collection of cess (Rs 1400 cr) far exceeds the disbursal (Rs 40cr). Others who spoke included leader from Marumaralchi Labour Front (MLF) Mr. Anthony Doss and Mr Tirupathi from Hind Mazdoor Sangh).

While Anthony Doss demanded that personal appearance for renewal should be substituted for self attestation by members and representation by unions, he also sought time bound verification of applications, “we are fine with any government authority or officer undertaking the verification claims but it is important that they do it in 30 days and the clarifications are sought so that money reaches workers in time.”

Tirupathi raised the issue of agencies registering as unions and acting as mediators to register people into the welfare board and gain benefits. He spoke of including migrant workers under the welfare board system by removing restriction on nativity. “they too work here, in the same conditions, why should they be treated differently.”

Workers from Pondicherry spoke about the manner in which they have been able to get renewals done in relatively short times and also the struggles they have undertaken including gheraos to get bureaucrats to move their applications for sanction. Speakers pointed out that Pondicherry has been able to achieve 100% renewals in the past year.

While most of the discussion that followed were centered around the poor functioning of the welfare boards in registering workers and disbursing benefits, the issue of workers safety and occupational health was also raised. Later session discussed issue on health and safety aspects and implementing improved safety standards in construction industry.

Deputy Director of DISH (Directorate of Industrial Safety and Health) addressed the workers. While he committed to take up the issues raised by workers he also emphasized the limitations of DISH in implementing the act.

The report from the workshop and the resolutions are awaited.