Labourers facing multiple crises: AICCTU study

They lack access to healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic and food security, and face depleted earnings

A study of living conditions of the working class in Bengaluru’s unorganised sector has revealed that labourers are reeling under a triple crisis: lack of access to healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic, lack of food security, and depleted earnings. They live in densely populated slums and colonies with inadequate hygiene, even as most workplaces have failed to provide masks, sanitisers and other aid for COVID-19 prevention.

The study was conducted by All Indian Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) in collaboration with other trade unions. It recommended that the government carry out regular fumigation of these areas and organise free testing and vaccination camps at these localities. The authors underscored the importance of taking such measures as they found there was hesitation to get tested and vaccinated.

The report made a case for augmentation of public health infrastructure and universal free treatment for COVID-19, while recommending a compensation of ₹10 lakh for families living below the poverty line who have lost a member to COVID-19.

Most labourers have suffered a loss of income, but those working on delivery platforms like Ola, Uber and street vendors have been affected more than monthly wage workers, the study found.

“Several contract workers have not received their wages for pre-lockdown periods, and there is uncertainty over wages during the lockdown period,” stated the authors.

Appeals by labourers to the government for extension of deadlines to pay EMIs and utility bills have not been approved. The study recommends that the government announce a COVID-19 compensation package for all labourers and vulnerable groups, including those with a salary of less than ₹15,000, apart from a risk allowance of ₹10,000 for all health and frontline workers. The government must ensure there is no termination of employment, and set up helplines for workers with payment issues, it noted.

It also found that ration distributed through the Public Distribution System (PDS) was often inadequate, making families in distress unable to completely rely on the State for their food and nutrition needs. Increase in prices of vegetables and fruits have also hit the working class.

The study, while welcoming free food being distributed by Indira Canteens in the city, argued that it was not enough, and recommends setting up of community kitchens and a hunger helpline like in the previous year. It also recommended that the State government immediately start distributing ration kits and implement Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana to all persons in PDS shops without insisting on ration cards, and ensure provision of 10 kg of rice.

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