Denying migrant workers their right to register with various welfare departments remained a stumbling block in their betterment, said R. Geetha, additional secretary of Nirman Mazdoor Panchayat Sangam.
This made it difficult to provide them with compensation, relief or even identification in case of accidents, she said, advocating the creation of an exclusive cell within the labour department to deal with migrant workers.
Talking to The Hindu on Thursday, Ms. Geetha, who has worked among migrant workers, cited a Supreme Court order that made it mandatory for all government contracts to register workers under the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996.
She said migrant construction workers, roughly estimated to be about 12 lakh in Tamil Nadu, were eligible for compensation from the Construction Workers’ Welfare Board because the one per cent cess collected from all construction projects was going to the welfare board.
“Since migrant workers are not allowed to become members of the welfare board, they are not able to get compensation. For example, if you calculate the total cost of the metro rail project to be Rs. 1,000 crore, the cess which is due to the workers on the site should be Rs. 10 crore. But the present system denies a worker his due, which is a matter of right. On the other hand, solatium has been released from the Chief Minister’s relief fund,” she said.
Ms. Geetha said migrant workers were working for low wages, living in squalid conditions without access to basic amenities and their children were denied education as they had been given the task of guarding their tin-roofed sheds without doors.
She pointed out that safety rules notified by the State government in 2006 were very clear that whenever there was an accident, the families of the victims, police and labour department should be informed within 24 hours.
“Whether it is a private construction work or otherwise, the government cannot abdicate its responsibility of upholding safety norms in work places,” she said.
Moreover, under the Workmen Compensation Act, the labour department should ask the employer to deposit the money after calculating the quantum of compensation in the wake of accidents. Subsequently, the labour department in the home State of the worker should be intimated for verifying the dependents of the victims.
Ms. Geetha also wanted the government to ensure that 50 per cent of local workers were involved in all big construction activities. “Local workers are more assertive and get wages that are in vogue in the market. Migrant workers will also benefit when they work with the local workers,” she said.
After allowing migrant workers to register with the welfare board, the government could issue temporary ration cards and set up child care centres, she said.
“They get poor wages, are treated as outsiders and spend more money in the open market to buy provisions. Temporary ration cards will allow them to procure essential commodities under the public distribution system,” she said.