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COVID-19: Trade unions worried about uncertain future of unorganised sector workers in Bengal

COVID-19: Trade unions worried about uncertain future of unorganised sector workers in Bengal

Kolkata: Lakhs of workers in the state's unorganised sector are facing an uncertain future as they may lose their jobs as a result of the countrywide lockdown in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, trade union leaders said here on Thursday.

CITU leader Subhas Mukherjee said that with around 95 per cent of West Bengal's workforce associated with the unorganised sector, it is a bleak scenario for these people and their families since they have no income owing to the lockdown.

Construction workers, commercial transport workers, daily wage labourers such as coolies at railway stations and markets, masons and their help are at their wits' end on how to meet their basic requirements, Mukherjee said.

"These are self-employed people and since they have no employer, the government has to take their responsibility," Mukherjee told PTI.

Another trade union leader, MQ Qamar, the INTUC West Bengal unit president said though there are laws and schemes to protect the interests of the workers of the unorganised sector, many of them are not registered or have not renewed their registration.

Thanking both the state and central governments for announcing relief for workers of the unorganised sector, the INTUC leader said with most government offices closed owing to the lockdown, these hapless people do not know where to go to get the assistance.

Though the government has declared special packages, including free ration, most of these people are not getting it owing to lack of coordination and mismanagement at the ground level, the CITU leader said.

Mukherjee also said that these workers are living in a dangerous situation in slums with no protection and lack of provisions.

"We have written to the government seeking orders to the local administration in all parts of the state to assist these people and their families," Mukherjee said.

Since many of these people engaged in unskilled jobs or as daily wage labourers in Kolkata and its vicinity are from neighbouring states like Bihar and Jharkhand, the trade union has urged the state government to start helplines for them.

The helpline numbers would also be of assistance to those from West Bengal working in other states so that they can get in touch with concerned officials of the government in time of need, he said, claiming that the CITU has reached to as many of them as it can.

"Whatever initiative is being taken by the top leadership in the government is going waste at the ground level," he said.

He also claimed that a very low percentage of the total workforce in the unorganised sector has been registered under various social security programmes of the government, thus rendering these people ineligible for assistance under these schemes.

In addition, the INTUC leader said those workers who are registered should be getting financial assistance as announced by the government, including those engaged in construction work, MNREGA and other schemes.

The registered workers are covered under a medical insurance scheme, he said.

"But those who are to implement these schemes and provide assistance to the workers are not attending office owing to the lockdown," he said.

Qamar also said that given the circumstances prevailing due to the lockdown, the workers of the unorganised sector should be given free electricity at their households till the situation normalises.

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