The Central Government is planning to extend benefits under the ESIC and EPF for construction workers, while auto and cycle-rickshaw drivers and Anganwadi and ASHA workers would get benefits of ESIC in a phased manner. This was revealed by Union Minister of Labour and Employment Bandaru Dattatreya while addressing the inaugural session of the National Conference on Labour. However, Dattatreya alleged that states are not utilising funds even after collecting huge amount towards cess from construction sector.
“The money is deposited in the state while construction workers remained neglected and exploited,” he said. Stating that the states already have Rs 27,886 crore with them from the construction sector cess, he said only Rs 5,800 crore have been spent by the states.
“This means that Rs 22,086 crore remain unspent and lies in the treasuries of the state governments. This funds should be judiciously spent for the welfare of the construction workers allocated under the BOCW (Building and Other Construction Workers Act) of 1996,” he said.
Citing the instance of Odisha, the union minister said though the state government has Rs 940 crore deposits from the construction sector cess, the state has so far spent only Rs 120 crore. He also expressed concern over ‘diversion’ of the welfare funds meant for the construction workers.
“It is seen in some states that funds are utilised otherwise and not for the construction workers who have rights over the cess amount. Though there is clear guideline for expenditure of the funds, some states are giving bi-cycle to workers which is not in the priority list,” Dattatreya said.
He said the cess amount for construction workers should be utilised under four heads - health, education, skill development and social security including pension. But, that is not happening in many states, the minister said. The Supreme Court has also raised question on unspent funds collected as cess in construction sector, he said. As construction sector generates maximum employment, the Centre has been taking steps to ensure protection of workers rights, he said.
Inaugurating the conference, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said, “Odisha has spent Rs 200 crore against Rs 1,000 crore for welfare of construction workers and we plan to cross Rs 500 crore this year.”