Panicky workers walk long miles to reach home
By Amarjeet Kaur*
The first round of announcement from the Finance Ministry for some sort of economic package for mainly the registered construction workers, women under Jan Dhan accounts, those families covered under Ujjawala for free cylinders and for farmers is inadequate. Much more needs to be done for the vast majority of workers who remain excluded.
The package would cover only 3.48 crore of registered workers out of about 9 crore engaged in the construction industry. All the unregistered workers need financial help to live and to fight COVID-19. About Rs 52,000 crore are available with construction workers welfare boards, collected through cess.
Out of 54 crore workers with almost 90% in the unorganized sector as of now in 2020 (the last figure of 47.4 crore is based on 2010 census), the announcement to help 40 crore of workers is based on a very miserly estimate. It needs to be addressed immediately.
Estimates suggest, 10 crore plus are migrant workforce in all sectors, including construction, agriculture and factories. Then there are those employed on contract or on daily basis by private transporters, ranging from rickshaws to types of motor vehicles, domestic workers, in piece-rate workers in the home based sector, workers in shops and dhabas, loaders- unloaders, coolies, porters at railway stations, bus stations, mandis, waste pickers etc.
All of them are very hard hit. A substantial number of them could not reach their homes as railways and road transport were abruptly stopped without giving them warning and timeframe to reach their respective homes.
They are seen on roads walking for miles with their families with empty stomach, except now and then some help from some social organizations. Of late some investments from some governments has come in for this workforce. The Kerala government has done it in the most organized manner. Its example should be emulated by others.
Hence, we at AITUC demand a package to cover all those who are left out. Those who are homeless, destitute and were already unemployed and dependent on odd jobs on a daily basis, often for 10-15 days a month, need to be addressed immediately. A mechanism needs to worked out urgently to reach them with food, water and other essential items.
There is a meagre announcement of Rs 500 per month to Jan Dhan account holder women, 20 crore of them who were registered, of which a substantial number of accounts are dead now.
Free gas schemes under Ujjawala will cover about 6.5 crore homes but this leaves out those who are homeless or are migrant workers and are not covered under the scheme.
As regards Rs 17,400 crore transfer at the rate of Rs 2,000 for each farmer, they were already covered in the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Scheme. The government should have provided Rs 6,000 to them.
The package would cover only 3.48 crore of registered workers out of about 9 crore engaged in the construction industry
There is an urgent need to provide the facility of procurement to the small producers of perishable items such as vegetables/ fruits/ poultry etc. As regards announcement of EPF to 4 lakh established units, only about 4.8 crore workers will be covered, because there are more unregistered establishments than the registered ones. Hence the workers of unregistered establishments are devoid of EPF benefits. The District Mineral Funds to the tune of Rs 25,000 crore is already available for workers.
In a nutshell, the high-sounding government package includes about Rs 90,000 crore out of the already available resources for workers from the cess collected for welfare boards and ongoing schemes for farmers.
The government has announced insurance coverage to doctors to the tune of Rs 50 lakh, Rs 30 lakh for nurses and Rs 20 lakh for others, but this package ignores the emergency needs of health professionals and para-medicals and other workers of the health system to meet the challenge of the deadly disease.
Immediate investments particularly needed in the health sector for personal protective equipments (PPEs), masks, increasing beds in hospitals and creation of new facilities in school buildings and stadiums to meet the emergency situation of testing, segregating and quarantine of those tested positive in these places.
We demand of the government to provide Rs 1 lakh crore for this purpose alone to begin with strengthening public health system to fight the disease in an organized manner.
In the lockdown scenario, the informal economy will be hard hit, as here vast majority of workforce finds livelihood and it is without any safety net. A package to this sector, to medium, small and micro enterprises (MSMEs), small cooperatives and small businesses providing piecerate work in the homebased sector is also in dire need to protect this sector.
*General secretary, All-India Trade Union Congress (AITUC)
Panicky workers walk long miles to reach home