B. Kolappan

Welfare boards offer a slew of benefits to workers without collecting anything in return

Today, there are 22 welfare boards in the State, covering almost every category

Creation of welfare boards began with Tamil Nadu Construction workers welfare board in 1994

Unorganised workers never had it so good before. At a time when globalisation and new economic policies of the successive governments leave these workers with “no permanent jobs and no permanent wages,” by the wayside, the constitution of welfare boards by the DMK government has come as a boon.

Today, in Tamil Nadu there are 22 welfare boards functioning, covering almost every category under the sun. Of these 22, 14 come under the labour department; the others come under various other departments.

These welfare boards offer a slew of benefits to workers, without collecting anything from them. But trade union leaders who work with unorganised sector feel that the Government needs to do more to ensure speedy distribution of benefits in genuine cases.

According to the Tamil Nadu Government, 1.85 lakh workers have registered themselves with the welfare boards.

A total of Rs 219.47 crore has been distributed as assistance which includes compensation for death, education assistance for the children of members, maternity assistance, marriage assistance and pensions.

The creation of welfare boards began with Tamil Nadu Construction workers welfare board in 1994 when the AIADMK was in power.

Besides streamlining the functions of the construction workers welfare board, the DMK government in 1999 created the Tamil Nadu Manual Workers Welfare Board, an umbrella organisation for 66 types of jobs.

After assuming office in 2006 the DMK government went on creating more welfare boards and also cancelled the registration fee and renewal fee for members of the welfare boards.

“The Government has succeeded in its aim to create welfare boards. But it has to do a lot to ensure the effective functioning of these welfare boards.

Though there are 2.5 crore unorganised workers — 1.5 crore agricultural labourers and one crore in other fields — we are not able to reach out to all of them. Computerisation is necessary to avoid dual membership,” says CITU secretary and member of the Domestic Workers Welfare Board T.A. Latha.

She points out that many welfare board members have no knowledge about the working conditions in the unorganised sector.

“Another problem is the mushrooming of trade unions that take advantage of the poor and illiterate workers. Many self-help groups have registered themselves as trade unions with the connivance of the labour department officials. The work of these unions stops with registering the name of the workers. In many cases they collect money from the workers,” alleges Latha.

As a way out, she suggests that trade unions affiliated to major political parties like the DMK and the AIADMK concentrate on mobilising unorganised workers.

AITUC secretary and member of the Manual Workers Welfare Advisory Committee T.R.S. Mani agrees that Tamil Nadu had excellent schemes going, but points out that a shortage of staff in the labour department is hindering work including verification of workers status and speedy distribution of assistance.

Mr Mani admits proliferation of trade unions is a problem. “In many cases it is the labour department officials who are to blame. They take money from the organisations and register them as trade unions,” he says.

Asked about the earlier proposal of the state government to transfer all the welfare boards to the revenue department from the labour department, he says the government gave up the idea after protests from the central trade unions.

“If the government is serious about preventing membership in more than one union, bogus membership and other irregularities it should computerise the entire system. You can make ration cards mandatory for registering with the welfare boards. Once a person becomes a member of the board make an entry in the card declaring his membership. The card then cannot be used for becoming a member of another board,” he says. K.R. Renuka, advisor of the Manushi Unorganised Women’s Progressive Union, which works with domestic workers, says only 51,700 workers have become members though there are 18,00,000 workers in the State.

“We work at the micro-level and mobilising the workers is not an easy task. Inadequate manpower in the labour department has created delays in getting assistance. We have not been able to get assistance for those who applied last year. If they don’t get the assistance in time, the workers get disappointed and lose interest,” she says.

She suggests that setting aside one per cent of the house tax collection for the welfare board would ensure a steady flow of funds.