Treat labour in construction work as formal sector, says Supreme Court

Cornelia Mascio
Marzo 21, 2018

The Supreme Court on Monday deplored the denial of social and economic justice to millions of construction workers in the unorganised sector while almost Rs 28,000 crore collected for their benefit was unutilised by the state governments.

The Supreme Court Bench said that even they are victims of official apathy and that it truly reflects a very sad state of affairs, and the loss already caused to them and other construction workers can not be remedied.

"There is a total lack of concern and apathy on the part of the powers that be in doing anything substantial for the benefit of construction workers".

"It must be appreciated that construction workers do not assist only in building infrastructure, but they also assist in building the nation, in their own small way", said the bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta in their judgment.

The court said successive governments have failed to make use of the money meant for the ensuring health, safety and service conditions of unnamed and unsung construction workers, who play a great role in nation building.

The laws are Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act (BOCW Act), 1996, and the Building and Other Construction Workers' Welfare Cess Act, 1996. The overall expenditure had also increased from about Rs 5371 crores to about Rs 9,491 crores again as on June 30, 2017.

"What is being done with the remaining about ₹28,000 crore? Why is it that construction workers across the country are denied the benefit of this enormous amount", the bench asked.

Some of these construction workers from the 1990s and even later. As of now, 2.8 crore have been registered under the 1996 laws for welfare. The court dismisses these figures as mere "guesstimates".

The goal of the laws of 1996 was to stop the exploitation of construction and ensure that their children do not suffer in terms of education, healthy living and dignity.

Issuing series of specific and general directions to Union Labour and Employment Ministry and the States and UTS, the court noted the directions passed by it from time to time have been "flouted with impunity" and similarly multiple directions issued by the Centre were "disregarded" by the states and UT administrations.

"What makes the situation even worse is that numerous construction workers are believed to be women and at least some of them have small children to look after", the court pointed out.

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