Unpaid & unsung
Mohammed Naseem, a mason by profession, died at the age of 60. Naseem had applied for his pension benefit on April 25, 2011. His request kept getting postponed for reasons best known to the Labour Department. During the course of this process, Naseem died on November 17, 2011. Ever since his death his wife and two children are running from pillar to post demanding his death compensation from “The Delhi Building & Other Construction Workers Welfare Board” under the “Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act 1996”.
If this was not enough, in a similar case, a disabled person had to wait for six long years to get his disability pension. Moreover, even after his death his family was unable to avail any response from the concerned department.
In another bizarre display of ignorance, the application for Disability Pension of Gayadhar Biswal, a plumber, remained pending till June 30, 2009 and eventually he also died.
Similarly, Radhe Shyam Sharma, a construction worker, was denied his pension for a good three years only because of one silly mistake committed by the Labour Department during the process of registration. The Labour Department issued two Identity cards on one registration number.
Pancham is another construction worker who holds an identity card of the same registration number. Both, Radhe Shyam and Pancham, applied for the pension but there seems to be no end to their harrowing wait as both share one registration number in Labour Department records. Both these workers are paying the price for a mistake they never committed.
These are some cases which are just the tip of the <g data-gr-id="161">ice-berg</g>. There are millions of others whose fate lies at the mercy of such ignorant officials. People, with limited resources at their disposal, from the unorganised sectors are made to suffer injustice and ignorance of the inept officials in the Labour Department since time immemorial.
There is no law which can protect the rights of these workers except a “construction welfare board”, which is dedicated for construction workers only. There are close to five crore people working in the construction sector out of 40 crore people in total. The rest <g data-gr-id="165">are involve</g> in different segments of unorganised sectors. Considering this scenario, a large section of people <g data-gr-id="163">have</g> no legal rights to get justice in <g data-gr-id="164">case</g> of any exploitation.
During the recent Delhi elections, it was quite surprising to see political parties, including the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), trying to grab eyeballs by pleasing contractual workers by assuring them permanent jobs. However, not even a single line was mentioned to address their serious day-to-day concerns, that too at a time when this sector constitutes close to 90 <g data-gr-id="153">per cent</g> of the total workforce in India.
“If one goes by Delhi government records there are only 2,51,700 organisations which are registered under Delhi Shop and Establishment Act. However, this is just half the story. There are more than 50 per cent organisations and small shops of which the Delhi government has no record,” says Shrivirjesh Upadhyay, General Secretary at Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh.
Workers from various segments constitute the unorganised sector. People who are involved in day-to-day work of any kind fall under this sector. Namely, street vendors, domestic <g data-gr-id="147">helps</g>, construction workers, rag pickers etc. They are one of the most vulnerable <g data-gr-id="146">lot</g> due to lack of the inadequate protection provided to them by any governments. This sector is marked by <g data-gr-id="132">low income</g>, unstable and irregular employment, and lack of the protection either from legislation or trade unions.
“People working in old Delhi’s famous markets – Chandi chowk, Kinari Bazar, Nai Sarak, and Sadar Bazar – have been victims of the callous attitude of the successive governments at the Centre and State. It is believed that about 80 per cent population of the total workforce in Delhi is associated with the unorganised sector and social security among them is a major issue. No minimum wages, no working conditions, no working hours are defined for these poor people,” said Shrivirjesh Upadhyay.
90 <g data-gr-id="156">per cent</g> of them do not even raise their voice against their employers fearing about their future. If they get fired, these workers look for another job in the same market or the other without going to the Labour Union or any other institution seeking justice. The trend is that if one such person goes to the union to file a complaint, he/she will be blacklisted by other shopkeepers too in the market.
“Their salary starts from Rs 5000 and goes <g data-gr-id="136">upto</g> Rs 7,000, at max. No other benefits are applicable as people working here are not contractual labours. Their salaries are delayed and no extra money is paid to them for extra work. The market has been following this trend for a very long time,” says Mangat Ram, who works in Teliwada market in old Delhi.
Salim, the vendor who sells sunglasses, has been putting his stall in Chandni Chowk for years together. However, since the last few months, it has been very difficult for him to put his stall as the Delhi police have started creating problems citing NGT orders.
“It is the 2014 Supreme Court judgment that says – until the Delhi Police and the MCD do not constitute a “Town Vending Committee” and give these vendors a licence to operate on the streets, no authority has the right to remove their stalls. The Committee has been constituted, but no progress has been made to issue licences to the vendors. In such circumstances, how can Delhi Police take any action against these vendors?,” asks Tasnim Arif, Organising Secretary at National Union of Informal Workers (NUIW).
Subhash Bhatnagar, National Secretary, <g data-gr-id="174">Nirmaan</g> <g data-gr-id="175">Majdoor</g> Panchayat Sangam, told Millennium Post that in 2010 Supreme Court passed an order in which it asked the Central government and all state governments to follow 11 suggestions given in the Order to implement the twin laws to provide social security to the construction workers. Those laws are – The Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 and The Building And Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act 1996. The petition was filed by the NCC-CL when only five states had drafted and implemented these laws to address the concerns of informal workers, while rest of the states had shown no interest to implement the Supreme Court order.
“In 2006, the Supreme Court once again ordered for the complete implementation of Building and other construction workers Act and Cess Act. “I am shocked to see that States like Uttar Pradesh are putting some conditions to give the benefits to those working as construction workers,” says Bhatnagar.
None of these 11 suggestions have been implemented by the Delhi Building and Other Construction Workers Board till now. Uttar Pradesh government has issued a notification under which registrations of construction workers will be valid only for five years, which again has to be renewed post expiry. Any person, who holds the card, will be eligible to get benefits from the Uttar Pradesh Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board, only after five years from the date of registration. “The Samajwadi Party has allegedly spent more than Rs 1 crore on Mulayam Singh Yadav’s huge birthday party from the construction workers board’s fund. And the present UP government has not yet refunded over Rs 100 crore to the UP BOCW Board, which was transferred during the Chief Ministership of Mayawati from UP BOCW Board to the State Treasury.
“UP government has not been managing the Board’s money the way it should have been,” says Bhatnagar.Bhatnagar further explains as to how children whose parents are not construction workers are also availing scholarships from the fund which is meant only for construction workers” children.
Chandra Bhushan, former Labour Commissioner, Delhi, during his stint in the Education Directorate, proposed a scheme for the payment of scholarship to the wards of Construction Workers studying in schools under the Directorate of Education. He expected that this process would expedite the registration of large number of construction workers whose children were students at these schools. Later, it was the Labour Department which decided not to register parents as beneficiaries that is clear from the audit report of Delhi BOCW Board by CAG. “Since time immemorial, any student who writes ‘worker’ in his/her parents profession in the admission application form is eligible for scholarship from this fund. The school teachers were never given the orientation to understand the difference between a ‘worker’ and ‘a construction worker’ for giving the scholarship from the Delhi BOCW Board,” adds Bhatnagar.
National Capital has this habit of being at the forefront of almost every kind of human rights violations. From crime capital to rape capital, it has now become the thriving business of the security guards providers who are operating right under the nose of every authority violating the every possible rule.
Hory Lal, who had been working with the BDS security service based in Chattarpur for last one and a half years, gave up his job due to unbearable conditions of the job. He is now fighting his case through labour union for his unpaid salary which the agency held back. “It is a 12 hours job without any leaves and the salary that I was fetching was just Rs 7,000, well below the current minimum wage”. There are hundreds of such agencies which are operating in Delhi, still they don’t face any legal notice from any government authorities for violating minimum wages and working hours’ conditions defined under ‘Delhi minimum wages act 2015’,” says Hory Lal.
This is not the story of one Hory Lal. There are many more, with similar tales, victims of some corrupt serial offenders encouraged by the inaction of police officials.
Given the scale of the unorganised sector it would be, for any government, an uphill task to draft a legislation which could protect the rights of most vulnerable people from every segments of the unorganised sector and could have the ability of uplifting them from the poverty that they are forced under due to some biased societal approach in absence of inadequate laws for social security.