for Unorganized Sector Workers

Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer
  S. Bhatnagar
Correspondence Address:
B-19, Subhavna Niketan
Pitampura, Delhi-110034
Phones: 91-11-27013523, 27022243
Mobile: 9810810365
E-mail: ncccl@vsnl.net
R. Venkataramani
Sr. Advocate- Supreme Court


1. Introduction

The National Campaign Committee for Central Legislation on Construction Labour (NCC-CL) has been campaigning for Comprehensive Central Legislation to provide Social Security and Labour Welfare to this second largest segment of unorganized sector workers. The legislation proposed by NCC-CL was to cover over thirty million construction workers. However, a limited legislation, limited in many senses was passed by the Parliament in 1996. Now the target of NCC-C L is to achieve the speedy implementation in States and Union Territories of the two legislations enacted in 1996 and amendments to Central Rules to make them comprehensive

According to recent survey done by Construction Industry Development Councils an agency launched under the guidance of Planning Commission, it is estimated that Construction workers number over three crores in India and out of them thirty percent are women and children. They sweat and toil and even shed blood to construct the dams, bridges, buildings, railways etc., half of the plan and budgetary expenditures are spent on construction activities, whatever be the field of region. They are the real builders of the nation.

Jawaharlal Nehru called the factories and dams, the temples of modern India. Construction workers, the builders of modern temples, have been treated as untouchables by the system of society, law and governance. Even after decades of struggle, the Central Government has cared to pass only namesake legislations, remaining unimplemented throughout the country.

Construction workers in Government or private sites, work under a system of contract and subcontract. Construction workers start their work life by the age of ten and continue till even 70 years since there is no terminal benefit or pension. They are invisible on records, not paid minimum wages even on Government sites, exploited and bonded especially to big contractors. Child Labour, even though banned by law in hazardous occupations, is a reality on construction sites.

It is not uncommon to see pregnant women working hard till the delivery, babies in cloth curdles, and toddlers playing in sand and cement dust exposed to hazards of worksite. Accidents are an everyday affair while there is no speedy measure to provide medical relief or compensation. Asthma, tuberculosis and frequent respiratory difficulties due to inhalation of cement and sand dust, cancer due to paints as well as exhaustion and severe physical pain are commonly found among workers. As a matter of fact construction is an accidents prone industry. ILO estimates indicates that there are on the average, 160 to 250 accidents per thousands workers as such the ILO have adopted two conventions viz. Convention No. 62 of 1967- safety provisions (Building) and convention No. 167 of 1988 - safety and Health in construction. That is why a lot provisions have been stated in the Acts promulgated in 1996 about the health and safety aspect.

The Construction workers are recruited either from marketplaces or directly from slums and villages or else brought from rural areas and housed on big sites. In the former case the number of days of work will be less while the payment is more while in the big sites the wages are the lowest.

In monsoon, there is no employment and at the same time the prices of bricks and sand also soar. Indebtedness during monsoon, periods of sickness, delivery are features of the workers' lives. In quarries and brick kilns as well as in big construction sites, a system of bondage exists and gets reproduced from one generation to the next through the Child Labour.

Building houses to mansions, themselves left to live on the roadside or in slums and often victims of eviction and slum fires.

The existing number of labour laws applicable to construction workers are supposed to work on the basis of inspection - prosecution - fining while the work itself may be over before the end of the legal process. These laws do not protect workers against victimization thus they have became unsuited to protect the labour. Also the employer employee relation changes and work place also shifts constantly while the existing social security laws are not suited for this changing situation.

Hence, National Campaign Committee for Central Legislation on Construction Labour had suggested that in the absence of a sense of responsibility on the part of principal employers and contractors for the labourers, a participatory tripartite mechanism would have to pin down everyone's responsibility to protect and provide for the labourers. Registration of all workers and employers regulation of employment through the Board and social security measures such as crèches and housing to be provided by the board through a levy of two percent of the estimate cost to be collected from all constructions before plan sanction, compulsory registration of accidents and strict supervision of safety and provision of skill training to workers especially women. The Board would have substantial representation of workers, with proportionate representation for women. The Board must be constituted to State District, Taluka and Local levels.

2. Background

In Tamilnadu Construction workers got organized at the State Level and continuously agitated from 1979 for legal protection and in 1985 initiated a National Seminar in Delhi participated by workers from all over the Country. It was the construction workers themselves who made concrete suggestions regarding tripartite boards and their functions. NCC-CL, composed of independent as well as Central Trade Unions, was constructed and Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer elected unanimously as Chairman. From its inception, NCC-CL has been relentlessly campaigning for a Comprehensive, participatory Central Legislation.

A model Bill and Scheme was drafted and a petition signed by Lakhs of Workers submitted to Parliament's Petitions Committee at the end of a procession held in New Delhi in December, 1986.

Campaign activities as meetings, conventions, dharnas had been conducted continuously in the last fifteen years to press the Central and State Govts. In 1988 Govt. introduced a Bill which only had safety measures and the Petitions Committee gave a recommendation that the official Bill must be withdrawn and a comprehensive Bill in the lines of the Bill drafted by NCC-CL be enacted and that NCC-CL must be consulted in the legislative process.

In 1990 a massive rally of construction workers in Delhi urged the National front Govt. to fulfill its election promise to implement the recommendations of petitions committee.

It was Ram Vilas Paswan as Union Labour Minister who convened a National Seminar and secured a National Consensus for formation of Tripartite Construction Labour Board. But the Govt. was short-lived and the Bill was not introduced.

In 1995 two ordinances were promulgated without consideration for the NCC-CL's view. There were nationwide demonstrations of construction workers and protests in Delhi too.

Of the two ordinances one was on cess collection and the other presumably for regulation of employment and conditions of service. Contrary to the title, the later contained mainly safety provisions and certain provisions like in the Contract Labour Act and a Welfare Board treating construction workers as beneficiaries. It has been evolved with little understanding that unless workers become active participants in the implementation; the law would remain on paper only and the major chunk of workforce shall remain uncovered due to inadequacy of the provisions of the Acts. This is inspite of the fact that the Govt. of India in its Agenda Paper circulated at the time of 1st of 1st meeting of the Central Advisory Committee stated :

The law did not provide for social security measures such as ESI or Provident Fund. Maternity benefit and creches were absent. House building workers were excluded from the purview of the law. The system of registration of workers by the Board was not compulsory and also there was a stipulation of applicability to sites where minimum of 50 workers are employed. Also house building activity costing over ten lakhs only are covered by the law.

In 1996 during UF Govt. the ordinances were introduced as bills, which were keenly debated in Parliament, actively participated by George Fernandes of Samata Party and Palani Manickam of DMK. There was intense lobbying by NCC-CL and in Tamil Nadu Nirman Mazdoor Panchayat Sangam agitated to include an exemption clause for State level Laws and schemes, which were more beneficial to construction workers. The State Govts. of Tamilnadu and Kerala also asked for the exemption clause and it was included. The applicability clause was reduced from 50 to 10 workers.

Due to the intense debate and lobbying the Cess Bill was amended to increase levy from less than one percent to one to two percent and to accrue the levy amount to state Welfare Board instead of Consolidated Fund of Govt. of India and to provide for collection of levy before plan sanction by local bodies.

Current Phase

After 12 years of sustained campaign, two Acts for the construction workers were passed by the Parliament in 1996.

(1) The Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment & Conditions of Service) Act 1996 (27 of 1996);
(2) The Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Acts, 1996 (28 of 1996)

It took another two years of continuous efforts for getting the Central Rules notified by 26th March 1998.

During last six year only State and UTs Governments of Pondichery, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have started action on the implementation of the two Acts in their States/ U.T..

In Delhi Rules have been notified and Board constituted but the registration have not begun. In Pondichery Welfare Board has been constituted, registration of workers began in April, 2003 and provision of accident relief and natural death assistance implemented. In Madhay Pradesh, the Rules have been notified and cess collected but since the rule does not provide for TUs to certify construction workers, the Scheme not taken off. In Gujarat even the Board is yet to be formed Thus we are at very delicate and crucial stage of our campaign work at present where implementation of the central Acts is pending in most of the states and UTs.

In Kerala the Welfare Board was constituted under a state Law and subsequent to Central Acts, the Rules were notified under Central Acts.

In Tamil Nadu, the welfare Board for Construction Workers was constituted under Tamil Nadu Manual Workers Act in 1995 and cess of .3% being collected form all constructions excluding those of the Central Government. Registration, provision of benefits such as assistance for fatal accidents, natural death, maternity, marriage, education of children's are implemented . The struggle is on for implementation of pension, ESI, housing, regulation of employment and wages, compulsory registration by the Board.

Builders Association of India has filed a writ petition in the Delhi High Court challenging the constitutional validity of the two Central Acts of 1996 for Construction Workers. If at this juncture weakness is shown by the Counsel for Delhi Govt. the court may grants stay order on the collection of cess which will take years to be vacated. The NCC-CL need to intervenes to obtain an order in favour of the construction workers so that it is used in other States/ UTs. High Court also where ever the constitutional validity of these Acts is challenged in future. This is most crucial requirement at this juncture which can not be delayed at all, otherwise the fruits of the last eighteen years of campaign will have to wait for innumerable years.

The turning point of the campaign of construction workers has reached because of tendency of the bureaucracy and vested interest of twisting the recommendation of the National Labour Commission (under the Chairmanship of Sh. Ravinder Verma) for a Tripartite board system to be adopted for providing social security and labour welfare provisions for all workers working in the unouganised sector under its proposal of an Umbrella Legislation. For example the government of Karnataka had delayed the implementation of the Central Acts of Construction Workers of 1996 in Karantaka on the pretext that they Karnataka government was drafting legislation to provide social security and Labour Welfare through the tripartite Board System for the entire unouganized sector worker on the line of Tamil Nadu Manual Workers Act of 1982. Next the Govt. of Karnataka delayed further the drafting of Unorganized Sector Workers Bill for a Board because of the recommendations of the National Labour Commission to the Central Govt. for a national legislation for the entire unorganized sector workers.

We should ask the new Govt. of Karnataka to first implement the 1996 Acts for Construction Workers and then review the need of a Comprehensive Act for Unorganesed Sector Workers in Karnataka vis a vis the comprehensive National Act is accordance with the recommendations of the National Labour Commision.

In Kerala, the registration of migrant workers is not being done, perhaps the impact of the State Act is yet to be change though the Board has been reconstituted years back under the Central Act. No central government undertakings are paying any cess to the Board. The local authorities have not yet started collecting the cess for board as provided under the Act and Rules. Cess is being collected by State Labour officials who are not being able to exert pressure over central government and local authorities for colleting cess.

The campaign needs to take an assurance from the Central Government of providing a time limit by which all the State Government must implement of the 1996 Acts in full strength.

On field level we need strong State Level Committees to follows up the implementations of the 1996 Acts in State / UTs level with active partners of Construction Workers to ensure fast registration of Construction Workers as beneficiaries.


The Union Labour Minister had repeatedly announced that the Bill on social security for the Unorganised Sector Workers accordance with the recommendations of the National Labour Commission will be introduced in the last session of Parliament but ultimately the former Union Govt. announced only a Social Security Scheme for Unorganised Sector Workers which is most likely to be abducted by the new Central Government. Therefore it is very crucial that we remained the new National Government of the assurance give by its Election Manifesto for the informal nad Unorganised Sector Workers. A single, simplified law assured by the congress Party can be based upon the recommendations of the National Labour Commission and it can protect the workers in the Unorganised Sector against the risks of all health, unemployment and old age.



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