December 15, 2019

Construction Workers March to Parliament

Swadesh Dev Roye

AT the call of Construction Workers’ Federation of India (CWFI), around 15,000 construction industry workers from all over the country converged at the national capital and marched to the Parliament Street on December 5 and organised powerful demonstrations holding high red flags, festoons, banners and demand bearing placards.

It was the culmination of a three-month-long massive signature campaign covering every nook and corner of the country under the banner ‘Petition to speaker, Lok Sabha with one crore mass signatures’. The campaign’s major demands include stoppage of repeal of Building and Other Construction Workers  (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act 1996 (BOCW Act)  that provides statutory provision of various Social Welfare Schemes like pension, accidental compensation, house building  loan/assistance, maternity benefit, children education allowance/ assistance, minor/major medical operation assistance and safety and health.

Such a huge mobilisation in Parliament Street by workers from a single industry, at the call of one single federation, was possible because of the massive campaign and propaganda activities carried out by the CWFI and its affiliated unions. Conventions, rallies, street-corner meetings, and signature campaign were organised at state capitals, district and block levels across the country. The activities conducted in Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi were extensive and it reflected in the massive participation of workers from the northern states in the march.   

Crores of construction workers in the country are going to be the worst victims of the Modi government’s anti-worker policy of bundling-up all the 44 labour laws into four ‘labour codes’. In the course of this retrograde act of the government, fundamental trade union rights, benefits and facilities including safety, health and social security are either deleted or diluted substantially. The BOCW Act, 1996 and BOCW Cess Act 1996, which guaranteed the above mentioned benefits are slated to be repealed and subsumed in two labour codes – Labour Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions and Labour Code on Social Security and Welfare, in split format resorting to ‘cut and delete or dilute and paste, as the case may be, to satisfy the employers’ class’.   

Occupational Safety and Social Security protection for construction workers are most crucial because they perform duty in a situation full of construction work related safety hazard. Biggest numbers of victims of fatal accidents come from construction industry. Biggest numbers of migrant workers – from village to town, from one state to another state and from one country to another country, come from the construction industry. The mindless manner in which the government of the day is taking away the safety and social security protection of the construction workers is bound to harm the lives and livelihood of construction workers. 

A five member delegation led by the president and general secretary of CWFI met the speaker of  Lok Sabha and submitted the petition on which mass signatures were collected from all over the country.

The inspiring demonstration of the construction workers on Parliament Street has deepened their motivation and strengthened their resolve to fight the anti-worker policies of the government, particularly the dismantling of the concerned labour laws. These rights and benefits concerning occupational safety, health and social security have been the achievements of long drawn struggles in the streets and sacrifices of the workers from the late 1980s. Such struggles were strengthened by taking up the matter in parliament including moving ‘Private Members Bill’ by the then MPs of CPI (M) including Comrade Samar Mukherjee. 

The immediate encouraging impact of this action will be reflected in the participation of construction workers in the forthcoming nationwide general strike action called by the joint platform of central trade unions and industrial federations. 

Apart from leadership of CWFI, Tapan Sen, general secretary of CITU, Members of Parliament E Kareem, CPI(M), and M Shanmugam, DMK, also addressed the gathering of the workers in the national capital.