The Indian government is extending the world’s biggest COVID-19 lockdown by two weeks starting 4 May due to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the country. This has given rise to a number of challenges, especially for workers in the informal sector, many of whom have lost their means of livelihood due to the economic slowdown.
As a response, the 45-member BWI Indian Affiliates Council (IAC), representing workers from the building-construction, building materials and forestry sectors from across major states, held countrywide online deliberations and identified a number of gaps and concerns both at the policy and implementation level regarding the government’s response to COVID-19. It documented various issues and actions in each state and developed a 10-point “charter of demands” for the benefit of workers.
The said charter was submitted to the Indian Prime Minister and Minister of Labour and Employment on 25th April. IAC said that its demands focused on lockdown and post-lockdown issues.
One of IAC’s demands urge the government to abandon any plans to amend the country’s labour laws without due consultation with trade unions. Other demands include free testing facilities at worksites and workers’ settlements, recognition of electricity and water supply workers as “COVID-19 warriors” worthy to be covered by insurance benefits and the safe return of internal and external migrants to their homes.
IAC Chair R.C. Khuntia said that the pandemic and the extended lockdown pose numerous challenges for workers and the economy.
“The BWI-affiliated trade unions in India are working jointly and committed to uphold workers’ rights by protecting both their lives and livelihoods during the pandemic. The IAC has already submitted its charter of demands to the government and we shall now work with them to ensure actions on the issues we have raised.”
Since the start of the crisis, the IAC has been actively reaching out to workers and linking them to state relief measures. It is also lobbying the government to implement a comprehensive COVID-19 economic stimulus and relief package.