A shamefully ubiquitous sight at almost every construction site in the country is of infants and toddlers lying or playing around with little safety provisions, while their parents, poor construction workers, toil hard for meagre earnings. The irony of the little ones’ exposure to pollution, dust and dirt in the midst of opulent buildings coming up through the sweat of the brow of their mothers and fathers is not lost as the stark difference in the living standards of the haves and have-nots pierces through. The paradox sharpens the focus on the authorities managing the purse strings of the richly endowed construction workers’ welfare boards set up in every state to ensure the welfare of the workers and their families and uplift them from their wretched plight.
The cess of nearly Rs 4,000 crore earned by the Punjab Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Board mirrors that of the other states. The Building and Other Construction Workers’ Act mandates the provision of daycare facilities at worksites that have 50 or more female workers. The crèches also serve to facilitate access to nutritious food and breastfeeding by mothers as well as safe and pollution-free environs to the kids. Flush with funds, surely, the boards can aim to enlarge the mandate and cater to all construction sites. Mobile crèches could be considered as a means for including all children in the welfare scheme and helping plug a significant chink in the armoury of benefits doled out by the boards.
The booming construction sector, which is the second largest labour employer in the country, is largely dependent on migrant labour, with one-tenth of the workers being women. The health and education of the children of this workforce are pivotal to the long-term economic growth and development of the country. The Covid-induced lockdowns laid bare their huge numbers and heart-wrenching vulnerability. Woefully, the welfare boards were found wanting in the updation of documenting workers. As registration is the key to the labourers availing themselves of the benefits, steps to ensure the inclusion of all eligible workers need to be ramped up.
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