On 9 May, the BWI-affiliated Bandhkam Mazdoor Sangathan (BMS) organised a webinar titled “Construction workers’ safety, health and welfare in the context of COVID 19” in Gujarat, a western state of India. Key panelists included representatives from the Gujarat Contractors Association, Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board (BOCW), Director Industrial Safety and Health (DISH), Government of Gujarat, National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) and the Occupational and Environmental Health Network of India (OEHNI).
The key objective of the webinar was to discuss the role of stakeholders in the construction sector during and after the COVID-19 lockdown. The online event got a good response, with 100 people registering and participating in the online discussion.
The webinar proved to be a good platform to get the different perspectives of construction workers and other industry stakeholders and build consensus. Some of the event’s major recommendations and suggestions were:
-Post-lockdown, contractors must prioritise registering construction workers with the BOCW board.
-Strengthen partnership between BWI affiliates and the Gujarat Contractors Association on raising workers’ awareness on COVID-19 health and safety protections and developing related information, education and communication (IEC) materials.
-Implement the ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ (ONORC) scheme wherein eligible beneficiaries are entitled to food grains under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) from any fair-price shop, regardless of geographical location. This will go a long way in addressing migrant workers’ food security concerns, especially during the COVID-19 crisis. The Gujarat Anna Brahma Yojana (Gujarat Food Scheme) should also be considered for migrant workers.
-To strictly observe physical distancing, workers under the Shramik Annapoorna Yojana (Construction Workers' Meal Scheme) must have food distributed at worksites instead of collecting it at labour contact points. Under the program, the Gujarat government provides each registered construction worker food equivalent to INR 10 (USD 0.13).
-Mandatory fifteen-day (15) quarantine for all workers who shall return to work from their villages. The state government must provide suitable food and shelter arrangements for workers during the quarantine period, while contractors must implement thermal screening and other COVID-19 measures (physical distancing, face masks and PPE) at worksites.
The Gujarat Contractors Association, with eighteen of its members participating in the online event, said that this was their first worker-related webinar. They expressed hope that similar webinars will be organised in the future to strengthen partnerships with unions.
For his part, Vipul Pandya, BMS General Secretary, thanked the panelists and the participants for their valuable inputs and warm response to the union’s first webinar. “We shall continue to build and strengthen our partnerships with key stakeholders on the health and safety of construction workers, including migrants, during the COVID-19 pandemic. We stand with our members and workers during this crisis. We will ensure that their rights are not undermined.”