India: Govt urged to protect workers’ livelihood from COVID-19

26 March 2020 08:14

BWI affiliates reported that the Indian Government has imposed a 21-day nationwide lockdown, the world’s largest COVID-19 lockdown, to prevent and contain the spread of the virus. Unions, however, remain concerned about the economic impact this will have on the country’s enormous working class population. 

On 23 March R.C. Khuntia, Former Member of Parliament and President of the Indian National Building, Construction Forest and Wood Workers’ Federation (INBCWF) submitted a petition to the Prime Minister of India and Chief Minister, Odisha State.  

The 24-point petition calls for the creation of a special emergency fund for workers and a special taskforce to look into issues arising from COVID-19. The fund would provide cash and non-cash transfers to workers and their families, securing basic necessities, public goods and services in form of special provisions for health workers, migrant workers’ settlements, suspension of utility bills, entitlements for contract workers and food supplies for three months. The petition also urged the Government to extend financial aid to the workers employed under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) as COVID-19 impact may also result in rural distress.

“This is a time of crisis and we recognise that extreme measures are needed to safeguard public health. However, denying workers the right to a decent standard of living during this time is equally abhorrent. We call on the government to immediately initiate discussions on these proposals,” said Khunti, who is also the Vice-Chair of the BWI Asia Pacific Regional Committee.  

Elsewhere in the country, BWI unions and national trade union centres have urged the government to initiate financial relief packages to workers and their families in the informal sector, including construction workers. As a result, many state governments have announced cash transfers, provision of free rations, advanced pensions with an appeal to employers to ensure continuance of wages and no lay-offs during this period of humanitarian crisis. 

The BWI affiliates are now ensuring that these measures are immediately implemented.