Indian Buildings Congress organised a Webinar on the topic “Exodus of Migrant Workers from Construction Industry-Effects & Various Mitigation measures including Housing for Construction Workers”on 9th June, 2020 at 5.00PM. Eminent speakers were invited who presented their views on the topic. The Panelist Dr. K.K.Pandey, Professor, Urban Management Coordinator, IIPA; Ms. E. Jayashree Kurup, Editor-in-Chief, MBTV; Sh Manish Gupta, Managing Director, BSBK Ltd. and Dr. Akshaya Kumar Sen, Joint General Manager, HUDCO delivered their speech.
Shri Pradeep Mittal, President, IBC in his opening address welcomed Shri O.P.Goel, Founder President, IBC, all the panelist, Shri H.P.Gupta, Hony. Secretary, IBC and all the viewers/ audience. He briefed everyone attending the webinar about the history, role and vision of IBC. While expressing the relevancy of the topic of the webinar in the present day scenario of COVID-19, he outlined the main reasons for exodus of migrant workers, effect thereof on industry and necessity of setting up mitigation measures to bring them back for revival of the industry. He mentioned that most of the migratory construction workers had bitter experience during the lockdown as they faced acute problem of fooding and lodging. Instead of showing empathy and owning them, the industry made excuses, did not pay wages to workers during the lockdown of this natural calamity and thought it better to get rid of them.
On account of lockdown & shutting down of all the major industries including construction and its allied industries, the migrant construction workers/ daily wagers who were basically the operating backbone of the industry, they became suddenly jobless. Their income sources vanished and the lock down has been a cause of severe misery of women and children. The workers were left with no money to feed themselves, for paying rents and to meet their day-to-day needs. Therefore, most of the workers migrated to their native places for their survival. Many workers alongwith their families and children were forced to travel hundreds of kilometres on foot to reach their native places. Government also had to run more than 4250 shramik special trains to send the migratory labour to their native places.
Lockdown caused disruption to the economy and the livelihoods, especially of the lower middle class, lower class and working classes residing in slums. Since most of them live in slums, lack space, sun, air, clean water and sanitation, the Covid pandemic has exposed them more to the epidemic and made them more vulnerable in view of their congested and unhygienic living conditions. The President, IBC, suggested for a systematic analysis of their working, fooding and living conditions towards ensuring to create a healthy, resilient working and living environment as a confidence building measures for this working class.
He also invited attention towards the apathy of various state Governments in dealing with the situation which though have amassed huge funds under the labour cess collected from the industry meant for the welfare of the labour, but it appears the same has not been judiciously utilized that could meet the basic needs of fooding, shelter, transportation etc., of the labour during this pandemic to stop the migration.
The President, IBC suggested to the Government and industry to revisit their policies and to take initiatives in mitigating problems of migratory construction workers by re-assuring their safety, better working conditions, attractive wages, compulsory insurance of worker, EPF, ESIC & Pension facilities, arranging special trains/ transport to bring them back without charging any cost from them besides ensuring welfare measures for workers and their families at work site/ work places like housing, fooding and hygienic living conditions, schooling for their children, primary health care centres near their housing etc. so that workers remains free from these worries for him and his families and concentrate on work He made a call to the Industry to prepare Multi-model mitigation measures on these lines for migratory labour suiting to their needs as a confidence building measures.
Shri O.P.Goel, Founder President, IBC while thanking everyone joining the webinar, informed that the COVID-19 epidemic has caused worldwide distress, fear psychosis, phobia among the working class, led to their dispersal, lockdown to save the lives JAAN and JAHAN,jeopardised the entire industry by bringing all activities including construction activities to a grinding halt as is where is. Relaxation of lockdown in a phased manner and resumption of activities is a big challenge for which remobilisation of workers is necessary by developing confidence building measures to attract them back.
He suggested pool of workers be formed by the lending states and work centres by the borrowing states. Works is to be continued with available labour strength. All workers be registered and compulsorily provided EPF, ESIC and other benefits on individual continuous basis without reference to employer and change of employment. Govt. to change rules in this regard. Presently this facility of EPF & ESIC is not available to all workers because of the prevalence of sub-contracting system. The present day situation could have been dealt with in better way had this system of EPF & ESIC existed for all workers. Workers should be given incentives to come back.
Shri Goel also suggested the need of long term, measures for the workers like more mechanisation of construction activities and skilling of workers involving lesser non-skilled work force; registration of all workers irrespective of the fact whether they are employed by any contractor or are waiting for employment in the pool, stable mechanism to look after their welfare, suitable accommodation atleast at all major project sites; rented accommodation arranged by Government under Govt. schemes at subsidised rates in place of Jhuggies and suitable transport facilities between work place and the housing .
Dr. K.K.Pandey, Professor, Urban Management Coordinator, IIPA, described the construction sector to be most important area in the economy which provides around 8% employment. For resumption of functioning of the construction industry, he expressed the utmost importance of the role of contractors and the industry in bringing back the migrant construction workers, as they know the addresses and whereabouts of most of the workers. The States should arrange trains and buses and bear the expenditure for bringing back the migratory work force. Local bodies should provide land free of cost, where the industry can construct the housing for migratory workers which can be rented out to them on affordable terms and conditions. He also expressed the need of converging different available schemes for benefit of workers and registration of each worker for covering them under EPF, ESIC, insurance, pension etc, and for keeping their proper records.
Ms. E. Jayashree Kurup, Editor-in-Chief, MBTV in her speech expressed that the COVID-19 has changed the world for ever. The contract labour which fled in large number has disrupted all the construction activities. Despite the fact that the contractor knew their projects will stall for longer period, they did not help the workers and allowed them to leave. Since the workers did not know as to when their income will restart, they preferred to leave for their villages in the hope that at least they will get food. Industry should not expect labour to spend for their transport to return. The labour basically wants job security, safety at work places, attractive wages, free basic facilities of electricity, water, primary schools, health care facilities, hygienic housing and transport from their housing to work places and back. On completion of each project the construction workers are bound to move from place to place in search of work.Therefore, Industry should not expect the workers to buy the houses. Instead the industry should consider providing community fooding & dormitory type accommodation at site on Gujarat model or cheaper and affordable rented accommodation to labour. Industry should assist the labour in opening of their Jan-Dhan Bank accounts, making available smart mobile phones for general banking, loading Aarogya setu app which will work well. She also expressed that interstate migration of labour should be discouraged and most of the labour should be employed within their native districts. She quoted that in the recent past the builders in Uttar Pradesh have assured the Government that they will employ the local labour which has migrated back to their native places.
Sh Manish Gupta, Managing Director, BSBK Ltd. in his speech discussed more about the user perspective, problems they are facing in the industry due to non availability of workers on their projects. He informed that his company is in the affordable housing and is using newer technologies where it has trained the labour over the period. He mentioned that the reasons for inter-state migration of construction labour are not understood. West Bengal labour moves to Jharkhand and the Jharkhand labour moves to West Bengal for work whereas the labour can work within their states. In the present scenario interstate transport of labour is difficult. He pointed out bureaucratic problems in employment of local labour too. He expressed the need of skilling the local labour by skill development institutes of the Government/ industry.However he expressed his apprehensions that skilling of local labour will take another 6 months and there is no guarantee whether these workers after getting skills will work locally and will not migrate. He also mentioned that the monsoon is likely to start and the works will remain suspended for another three to four months which will resume not before end of September, 2020, thus the economy condition is not going to improve in the next 3 to 6 months. He emphasised the need of paradigm shift in the industry and to redesign the housing for workers suitable for the Post Covid-19 requirements. He also advocated the rented accommodations for the migratory labour as a mitigation measure to solve the housing problem of workers.
Dr. Akshaya Kumar Sen, Joint General Manager, HUDCO, in his presentation advocated the implementation of National Urban Housing Rental policy which is still in draft stage. In his detailed presentation he explained proposed accommodation could be Public Rental Shelter/ Hostel/ Ran Basera/ Awa Jawa Basera with beds and subsidized food for migrant workers for single occupancy, double occupancy, 4 occupancy and dormitory type occupancy where the monthly rent could be 2 to 5 days wages of a worker. The parking facility, multipurpose shops and ATM facilities could be provided in the housing. For the housing purpose land could be allotted by the Urban Local Bodies/ Development Authorities/ Housing Boards/ Government departments near transport terminals/industrial areas near major hospitals etc. Government could utilise the labour cess available with them for creation of this infrastructure. He also informed that Odisha has shown the way in this direction where it is incurring 47 crores out of 300 cr. Labour cess available with it in its coffers for creating the infrastructure at 18 locations.
Shri Anant Kumar, Additional Director General (Tech.), CPWD in his address informed that he has been asked to prepare a policy document for creation of housing for the migrant construction workers and called upon the panelistfor their workable suggestions in preparation of the policy document in this regard. He also informed that he is working on revising the specifications of the housing for construction workers in place of Katcha Jhuggies as provided in the standard tender document. He further pointed out non-availability of land within cities near construction sites for construction of housing for the purpose. It is available only on outskirts of the city from where ferrying labour to different work sites will be impracticable. He suggested that Governments/ local bodies could permit extra FAR for enabling the builders to construct the housing/ dormitories for the construction labour in the beginning and on completion of the project convert the same into service areas like service centre, shopping complex, community centres, accommodation for service staff etc. For larger Projects like IIMS, IITs, Engg. Colleges, Hospitals etc, the housing for construction workers to be constructed in the beginning should be designed in such a way so that on completion of the project same could be utilised by support staff/ service staff of the institute besides accommodating service centre, shopping complex etc.
At the end of the Webinar, Shri H.P.Gupta, Honorary Secretary, IBC presented the Vote of thanks. He thanked all the panelist for their valuable deliberations and the viewers for joining the seminar and making it successful.
After conclusion of the Webinar, Shri K.B.Rajoria, Former E-in-C, DelhiPWD and Past President, IBC vide his email dated 10th June, 2020 and Shri M.C.Bansal, Former Special DG, CPWD & Advisor (Tech.), IBC submitted their observations which are brought out here.
Observations of Shri K.B.Rajoria:
The Webinar was organized in excellent manner and all speakers gave outstanding presentation. Some issues, which were not covered fully are brought out here.
- Accommodation for workmen- The situation to some extent was brought out by Ms Jaishree. It was her point of view. Concept of permanent housing for construction workers, as brought out by HUDCO, will be difficult in implementation particularly in mega cities. It is not a practical solution because land will not be available at project sites. Instead, it will be desirable that contractors organize accommodation at project site, by providing refurbished shipment containers. There should be concept of taking containers on hire. This arrangement will be good for efficiency of work and convenience of workmen. In foreign countries, this arrangement is very common. Therefore, container service should be propagated.
- Registration of construction workers- The effect of covid-19 is that most of construction workers have gone to their native villages in different States. These workers will be required at project sites. In order to get these workers, efforts of State Governments will be necessary. It will be desirable that movement of these workers is recorded, by both the State Governments and Local Bodies as also Panchayats. This will help in tracing locations of construction worker. It will also help in manpower planning for projects.
- Training of construction workers- The responsibility of training of construction workers should rest with principal employers. For construction sector, Government departments are generally principal employers. The responsibility given to Ministry of Skill Development should be transferred to principal employers like C.P.W.D., Railways, MES etc. They should inturn ensure that contractors employ trained worker or impart training to them. Principal employers should test their skills in systematic manner. Covid-19 effect will give opportunity to implement this change.
Kindly consider including above points in the report. We can send copy of the report to Niti Ayog, Govt. of India’s different Ministries, State Governments and major construction organizations of Government.
Observations of Shri M.C.Bansal:
The panelists presented their view points/presentations on the Webinar in an excellent manner. There are few suggestions for considerations which appear to have not been covered are brought out here.
- Accommodation for workmen-The situation to some extent was brought out by Dr. K.K. Pandey, Ms.E. Jaishree and Akshaya Kumar Sen. Concept of permanent housing for construction workers appears to be not convincing as brought out by Ms. Jayashree and Dr. Sen from HUDCO, since the construction workers remain migratory in nature, because they have to search fresh employment every time when their role in a ongoing project is over. Further it will be difficult in implementation particularly in Metro/ Mega cities where land is generally not available at Project sites within cities for construction of large scale accommodation for construction workers. It is therefore suggested that for migrant construction workers, the contractors organize accommodation at project site, either by providing re-usable temporary refurbished 2-4 storied steel framed structure duly assembled with nuts and bolts or refurbished shipment containers along with first aid and quarantine facilities, separate common toilets and separate community kitchen block with dining facility to be run by the Contractor. The accommodation, fooding and the healthcare facilities on site to be provided free of cost to the workers and their families by the contractor. The containers can also be arranged on hire basis. This arrangement will be good for efficiency of work and convenience of workmen.
District Administration should be responsible to ensure free food and meeting day to day basic requirement of workers including health care facilities. Government has already created fund under the name of workers welfare cess for which it is charging 1% cess on value of work done in each contract. Failure to make payment of labour cess is an offence. Therefore, it should be the duty and responsibility of the Government to utilize this labour cess towards necessary welfare measures for the workers so as to make them available free of cost food and meeting day to day requirement of workers including health care facilities.If the workers are registered and their movements are recorded, it will be very easy for the district administration to serve the workers by knowing about number of construction workers and their locations within the districts.
- Registration of construction workers- The registration of workers containing all his basic details including Aadhaar card number etc., should be made mandatory. Employing an unregistered worker should be declared a criminal offence. EPF and ESIC Contribution of workers and employer should be made mandatory for each organization employing more than 2 workers at a time. Quoting of the unique registration number of the worker on his/ her job card by the contractor/ employer should be made mandatory.
- Technological inputs to be increased to reduce the requirement of number of workers. Simple gadgets for doing sundry jobs should be devised. Types of mechanization may be worked out for different types and sizes of construction activities.
- The skills of the workers need to be upgraded. On job and off job training may be provided. The workers may be paid full wages and other benefits during such training. The funds available under workers welfare cess may be allowed to be used. The State Governments should place the funds with the training organizations.
- The benefits of EPF, ESIC etc. are presently available to workers through the Contractor employing a minimum number of workers. As workers are put on job through sub-contractors, large number of workers are deprived of these benefits. All workers individually should be registered and made eligible for these facilities. They should not get deprived in case of change of employment. During idle period, the payment should be made by the State Govts.
- The System of registration of all construction workers with a permanent registration number w.r.t. Aadhaar Card may be put in vogue.
- Pools of workers should be available at the lending States as also at the borrowing State. The Contractors can draw upon these pools as per requirements.
- Accommodation for workmen-The contractors should organize accommodation for migrant construction workers at new project sites, by providing re-usable temporary refurbished 2 storied steel framed structures duly assembled with nuts and bolts, alongwith first aid and quarantine facilities, separate common toilets and separate community kitchen block with dining facility etc. in line with COVID-19 SOP requirement for construction industry. Provisions should be made accordingly in new Contracts so that the bidders quote their rates accordingly.
- On account of COVID-19 requirements, expenditure for making any modifications in the existing accommodation provided by the contractors should be reimbursed to them by the employer.
- In new major Projects like IIMs, IITs, IISC, Hospital & Medical colleges campus, Para-military complexes or housing projects or projects spread in 10 acres of area or more for creating any other infrastructure, accommodation for construction workers should be designed and got constructed at the beginning of the project in such a way that the same could be economically converted into service areas like, service centre, accommodation for staff etc or used for rentable housing on completion of the project
- The accommodation/Hostel/Aawa Jawa Basera for the migratory workers should also be constructed by the Government nearer to bus terminals, industrial areas and hospitals or any place in the vicinity where land is available having good transport connectivity. This accommodation could be allotted for specific time to the workers at subsidized rates under National Urban Housing Rental Policy. Necessary transport arrangements for the workers to travel to work sites should be arranged by the Government.
- Registration of construction workers: All workers irrespective of the status of their employment within their native state or outside should be registered digitally compulsorily within their native state. All the basic details including Aadhaar card number etc., should mandatorily form part of the registration details. It will be necessary that movement of these workers is recorded, by both the State Governments and Local Bodies / Panchayats.
- Pools of workers shall be formed by the lending states and at work centres by the borrowing states. This will help in tracing location of a construction worker and in dealing with all social welfare measures. It will also help in manpower planning for projects.
- Arrangements to transport the workers back: To bring back the migrated registered workers from lending states, the borrowing State/Central Government should give incentives to workers and should make special onetime transport arrangements without charging any cost from the workers. The borrowing State Government should also make arrangements for fooding and lodging during transit as well as on their arrival at destination for a fortnight or till they get employed whichever is earlier.
- Payment of wages to workers during normal circumstances and during lockouts/lockdown/Force majeure etc.: The borrowing State should arrange to ensure that the workers get proper wages. To deal with event of lockdown/lockouts/force majeure or any COVID-19 like situation in future, Government should directly make payment of wages to the workers during lockdown/ lockout/force majeure/epidemic/pandemic period.
- Primary education, health care & crèches facilities: There should be stable mechanism of the employer under its social responsibility to provide Primary education to children of workers and health care facilities to their families near work places. There should be provision in the tender document for providing free of cost hygienic crèche facilities for the kids of workers at each construction site of work.
- Insurance, EPF, ESIC & Pension facilities: All tender documents should contain mandatory provisions for employment of registered workers and their insurance, EPF, ESIC facility. The Government should provide compulsorily EPF, ESIC, Pension facility and other benefits to all workers through digital platform on continuous basis without reference to employer and change of employment.
- The tender documents therefore need to be modified. The new construction Contracts should accordingly provide conditions for construction of desired accommodation to accommodate construction workers during execution of projects, by removing the existing outdated provision of temporary kutcha / pucca jhuggies like slums. The Contracts should also provide for registration of all workers and availability by EPF, ESIC benefits to all workers.