India: Thousands of workers protest public fund misuse, politicised COVID-19 response

More than 10,000 workers stormed the streets of Bengaluru in India on 20 September to protest the misuse of public funds under the Karnataka Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Board (BOCW). 

BWI trade union affiliates, that participated in the massive protest, explained that the BOCW funds were meant for the more than 2.5 million registered construction workers in the state. Karnataka State Construction Workers' Central Union (KSCWCU) President N P Samy called on authorities to investigate the massive misuse of public funds, explaining that the funds finance various social protection measures for workers and their families. 

“We call on the government to launch a high-level enquiry, with the active participation of unions, to probe the said financial irregularities, plug gaps in the system that allowed this scandalous discrepancy and hold those involved in this issue accountable. We vow to continue to raise our voices until this matter is fully resolved,” Sammy said. 

The politicalisation of BOCW’s pandemic response, particularly the distribution of COVID-19 ration kits and purchase of vaccines, was also assailed. The protesting workers also demanded an INR 10,000 (USD 135) worth of relief package for each construction worker, INR 500,000 (USD 6,750) as house construction subsidy and another INR 500,000 as subsidy for a worker’s dependents who died from COVID-19.

A petition containing the said demands were submitted to the State Chief Minister and Labour Minister.  

It was reported that the big rally ended with a public meeting at the state capital’s Freedom Park where different trade union leaders took turns in lambasting the BOCW. 

Aside from KSCWCU, CITU, INTUC, HMS, AITUC, AICCTU, AIUTUC and TUCC) also participated in the protest rally. 

BWI affiliates that joined the protest observed health and safety protocols.