WORKERS IN THE SECOND WAVE

 

(Excerpts from reports prepared by AICCTU Karnataka on the health, dignity, and rights of local and migrant workers and crematorium/graveyard workers in the pandemic.)


The objective of this report is to highlight the status of workers during the COVID-19 2nd wave in Bengaluru and the second set of restrictions and lockdowns. To be able to represent concerns of a diverse range of workers, we ensured that we spoke to diverse set of workers including Construction workers, Garment workers, Metro workers, Security guards, Workers in small shops, Waste pickers, Domestic workers, Taxi drivers, Library workers, MC Gang men, Street vendors, Hospital workers, Ready Mix Concrete workers, Pourakarmikas (Sanitation workers) and Auto drivers. A total of 73 non-migrant workers and 46 migrant workers were interviewed by telephone. These interviews were conducted between May 1st to May 6th.

AICCTU collaborated with Garment and Textile Workers Union (GATWU) and Domestic Workers Rights Union (DWRU) for the report. Below are the recommendations of the report.

Recommendations

1. Health aspects

i. Ensuring Adequate supply of medical facilities

a) Strengthening Public Health Infrastructure: Public health infrastructure, especially COVID-19 care centres, hospitals and health Centres, on which the working class entirely depend on, need to be upgraded and expanded extensively. The medical infrastructure including oxygen, beds, and medicines must be ramped up.

b) Oxygen, Bed, and Medication shortages: In coordination with the Central Government, the State Government must procure adequate supply of oxygen along with buffer stocks. The details of requests placed, oxygen supply granted, procurements, and distribution to various districts and hospitals must be placed publicly on a regular basis.  State Government must take immediate steps in coordination with BBMP to ramp up ICU beds and High Dependency Unit (HDU) beds availability across the State, including conversion of identified public buildings. Medication required for the treatment of COVID-19 such as Remdesivir and Tocilizumab must be acquired in advance, having assessed the requirements, along with buffer stocks. Local production must be incentivized.

c) Priority in ESI Hospitals: Workers must be provided medical treatment of priority in ESI Hopsitals.

d) Compensation for COVID-19 deaths: In case of Covid-related deaths among BPL families, the family must be be paid compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs.

ii. Testing and facilities

a) COVID-19 testing camps: State Government must immediately organize free COVID-19 testing camps in all slums, working class layouts and colonies, migrant and construction worker labour camps and colonies, along with distribution of masks and sanitizers across the State. Information regarding the free COVID-19 testing camps and their schedules must be made publicly available at least 10 days in advance so that adequate testing is carried out. Results of the testing must be released within 24-48 hours to ensure that quick remedial steps are taken. Testing must be conducted in all slum areas and working class areas.

b) Sanitizing areas: All slums, working class layouts and colonies, migrant and construction worker labour camps and colonies must be sanitized on a weekly basis.

c) Random testing: Random testing of the public at hotspots for transmission must be restarted, such as bus stations, railway stations, airports, and markets. Especially since containment zones are not being utilized by the State during the second wave, random testing must be conducted in densely populated areas, with a special focus on slums.

iii. Quarantine facilities

a) Home quarantine facilities: Persons required to undergo home quarantine must be provided with “Home Quarantine Kits” which would contain Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) kits, masks, gloves, sanitizer, oximeter, thermometer, Vitamin D, Vitamin C, Zincovit, cough syrups, Dolo/Paracetamol, steroids (when required), and inhalers (when required). This must be provided free of cost to families who cannot afford the same.

b) Covid Care Centres (CCC): Covid Care Centers must be increased in number for more decentralization and must be established at ward/community level with adequate beds and facilities to ensure proper isolation and treatment of COVID-19 patients free of cost.

iv. Treatment

a) The Covid Care Centres (CCC) shall be the first point of contact for those requiring hospitalization. These CCCs must have emergency oxygen stock as well as necessary medications. Arrangements for any person requiring hospitalization including ICU shall be provided by the CCC. Every CCC shall have atleast 2 ambulances for the purpose of bringing people to the CCC or to shift them to the hospitals.

b) All treatment and medical arrangements shall be provided free of cost.

v. Awareness

a) Information: There is a dire lack of basic information among the general public in the State which is causing panic and fear. Intense information dissemination is the need of the hour. Information dissemination can be done by video broadcasts on all TV channels in all languages, along with official videos, posters, and information being circulated on social media and WhatsApp. It must be constantly reiterated that no stigma is attached to a positive result, and action will be taken against those stigmatizing COVID-19 patients.

b) Helplines: Most workers are not aware of the helplines for COVID-19 support. The few that reached out to the helplines did not receive support. Steps must be taken to increase awareness regarding the helpline numbers. It must also be ensured that helpline desks are adequately staffed and equipped to provide 24/7 help.

c) Awareness for Migrant workers: Government must specifically keep in mind that there are vast numbers of Migrant workers in Karnataka state, and helplines and awareness programmes must also be enabled to handle their needs as well as to reach them.

vi. Vaccination

a) Universal vaccination: All persons must be given free vaccination, to be provided within a fixed period of time. A priority list must be created to distribute vaccination amongst those most vulnerable on account of shortage of vaccines. The Government must also push for centralized procurement of vaccines, and localized distribution. Legal barriers to vaccine availability must be removed, and the Government must explore mitigating measures such as compulsory licensing and waiver of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs).

b) Method of vaccination: The system of requiring prior online registration for vaccination along with documentation is inherently exclusionary and in violation of the right to equality. The Government must undertake door-to-door vaccination and establish vaccination camps to ensure free and universal vaccination. Additionally, vaccination must be administered at every block level, in CHCs, PHCs, government hospitals, schools, colleges, etc.

c) Vaccination timelines: With the suspension of vaccination for persons from 18-45 years of age as on May 12, 2021, the Government must provide a timeline as to when vaccination will restart, and the method in which vaccination will be carried out along with details of procurement and supply to various districts.

d) Workers’ camps: Free vaccination camps must be organised in all labour camps, worker colonies, migrant worker colonies and slums

e) Vaccine information: The Government should make publicly available information regarding vaccination procurement, payments made, and orders placed. Information dissemination should contain simplified results of vaccine trials, any post-vaccination deaths or complications, and must dispel vaccination hesitancy.

2. Livelihood

i. Compensation

a) COVID-19 compensation packages: Government must declare a COVID-19 Financial Compensation package benefiting all Below Poverty Line (BPL) families, residents of slums (identified, declared or otherwise), contract and casual workers receiving wages below Rs. 15,000/-, domestic workers, street vendors, construction workers, waste-pickers, manual scavengers, Powrakarmikas, garment workers, plantation workers and other sections of the unorganised sector. The package is a must for allowing maintaining a dignified life during the lockdown period.

ii. Protection of Livelihood

a) Urban Employment Guaranatee Scheme: Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme in line with the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) should be initiated to ensure employment for those in urban areas

b) Ensure Job Security: Introduce legislation to make job security a right, abolishing all forms of cotnract and casual labour and ensuring that those workers are made permanent

c) Protection of livelihood: Government of Karnataka must take all necessary steps to ensure that no worker is terminated, and full payment of wages is made. In line with the Circulars dated May 10, 2021 issued by the Government of Karnataka directing employers not to terminate construction workers, to pay wages, sanitize their residences, and pay wages, similar directions to be issued to other industries to ensure the protection of livelihood of workers.

d) Transportation to workers and Protection against Police Harassment: Although the Government has permitted allows for certain works to continue, workers are in fact unable to go, due to lack of transportation. There is also no safeguard against police harassment, in case they are travelling in private vehicles. Immediate steps need to be taken to ensure provision of transportation and prevent police harassment.

e) Payment of wages: It is seen that in a large number of establishments, wages have not been paid for the periods prior to the lockdown and it is unsure if wages will be paid during the lockdown. This has led to complete desperation amongst workers. Necessary orders must be issued directing payment of full wages for the lockdown period irrespective of whether work has been undertaken.

f) State as model employer: Where the State is the employer, it must act as a model employer and ensure the fullest protection of rights of its workers, including workers in BMRCL and Bengaluru Smart City, from full payment of wages, to healthcare to provision of proper living conditions to non-termination of employment.

g) Arrears of wages: Workers in various sectors, including garments, suffered in the last lockdown as many companies refused to pay salaries. The Labour department must ensure that companies pay the salary or ensure government relief is provided.

h) Wages helpline: Labour Department must set up a helpline for workers who are not paid wages and who have complaints in regard to termination, and immediate remedial steps must be taken.

i) Strengthening of Labour Department: Government must take all necessary steps to strengthen the Labour Department in order to enable it to ensure immediate remedial action for deductions in wages/non-payment of wages.

j) Social security: In regard to workers in the unorganized sector, the Karnataka State Unorganised Worker Social Security Board must step up and take responsibility to provide social security. This must not be limited to those registered under the Act.  

iii. Rent, loan and utility waivers

a) Rent Waiver: The Government must issue necessary orders directing house-owners not to insist on payment of rent for the lockdown period and a period of two months after the lockdown ends.  It must also issue orders to ensure no evictions of any persons are conducted in this period.

b) Loan moratoriums: The Government must issue necessary order directing loan repayment moratorium across the state of Karnataka for the months of April and May. It must be clarified that the said order is applicable to private and public lenders, individuals and institutions.

c) Loan waivers: The Government must declare waiving of loans owed by workers to Micro Finance Institutions (MFIs), banks and private lenders.

d) Interest free loans: At this time of social and economic crisis, the State Government must provide interest-free loans to those in need based on a transparent policy. Loans must be prolonged recovery periods, without any requirement of securities, and with minimal documentation required.

e) Waivers on utilities: The Government must waive electricity and water bills to provide financial security to its citizens who are suffering at the hands of a pandemic and lockdown.

iv. Food Security

a) Ration kits: The State Government, in coordination with local municipal corporations, must ensure food security by free distribution of ration kits consisting of rice, wheat, ragi, masala, cooking oil, salt, sugar, etc. to suffice for a period of one month. The Government must also implement the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) to all persons in PDS shops without insistence on ration cards.

b) Indira canteens: Per the BBMP’s decision to provide food packets at Indira Canteens, steps must be taken to ensure that when households are located far away from the Indira Canteens, they are provided food at their doorstep.

c) Community kitchens: Community kitchens should be set up to ensure decentralization of food assistance. Support can be taken from street vendors to run such community kitchens.  An example may be drawn from the Kerala model of community kitchens.

d) Food Help-line: The Government must set up a help-line that caters to food security specifically, and must ensure provision of food in a time-bound manner on receiving any such requests. Publicity must be given to these helplines. 

3. Sector Specific Recommendations

i. Migrant Workers

a) Helpline: A specific helpline must be created to address needs of migrant workers with operators are fluent in Kannada and Hindi languages. The operators of the helpline must be enabled to give real assistance to those who call, including

  • Travel assistance
  • Assistance with non-payment of wages/ termination of employment
  • Health assistance
  • Information assistance etc.
  • This helpline must be widely publicized through social media posters and auto announcements, along with posters to be circulated in various languages.

b) State assistance: Steps must be taken to that any worker who desires to return to his native place must be provided travel assistance to return home.

c) COVID-19 safety measures: Government must ensure that masks, sanitizer, ration kits etc. are distributed at migrant worker colonies specifically as also at railway stations.

d) Provision of safe living conditions: The government must take proactive steps to ensure safe living condition for workers, including undertaking regular fumigation of these areas, have intense awareness campaigns and equip each colony / areas with adequate primary care facilities.

e) Periodical testing should also be done so that early detection of the illness is possible thereby arresting its spread.

f) Temporary shelters must be established to ensure migrant workers have facilities until the lockdown is lifted.

ii. Hospital and Frontline Workers

a) Employers must ensure quality safety equipment, COVID-19 quarantine facility while on duty with food and other facilities for stay

b) Risk allowance of Rs. 10,000/- per month must be provided to all Group – D housekeeping staff in recognition of their service during the pandemic

c) Immediate medical attention must be provided in case these workers show symptoms of COVID-19.

d) Institutional quarantine facility for isolation must be provided for those workers who require it

e) Timely payment of salary must be mandated and ensured by the Labour department

f) Workers above 45 years of age must be recused from work,  with payment of full salary and benefits.

g) Sick Leave with Pay: If any worker is suffering from any of the symptoms, they must be mandatorily granted sick and casual paid leave for 28 days.

h) Employers must ensure provision of food during working hours in view of the lockdown.

iii. Sanitation Workers

a) Government must ensure that pourkarmikas and their families are covered under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana and are entitled to compensation of Rs. 50 Lakhs if they lose their life due to COVID-19.

b) Government must ensure the provision of priority vaccination to pourakarmikas and their families

c) Government must ensure Risk allowance of Rs. 15,000/- to all pourakarmikas

d) Health check-up and daily screenings must be provided as follows including daily thermal screening, a master health check-up, regular health check once a month. Their health must be monitored through the health check-up card or book given to each pourakarmika.

e) Government must identify workers who are suffering from co-morbidities and ensure that they are provided sick leave with pay

f) Provision of complete and adequate safety equipment

g) Government must ensure that workers and their families are provided complete medical treatment, in the event of being tested positive

h) Government must ensure the provision of all basic facilities including drinking water, food, toilet, restroom and facilities with soap and water. 

i) Government must ensure the provision for transportation facility to be made for all pourakarmika.

iv. Gig-Workers

a) Gig workers must be recognized as workers and ensured all rights including job security and social security.

b) Government must issue necessary order mandating employers to
        ◦ ensure provision of personal protective equipment such as gloves, N95 masks, sanitisers, gloves, face-shield, etc.
        ◦ provide COVID-19 risk incentive.
        ◦ Ensure regular testing of the workers
        ◦ Provide health and life insurance benefits
        ◦ Provide free medical treatment in case they test positive for COVID-19

c) Government must ensure toilet, water & food supply for workers at various areas across in the city

d) Government must provide for priority vaccination of gig workers.

v. Domestic Workers

a) Domestic workers must be allowed to work or alternatively be given full wages without imposition of any conditionalities such as prior vaccine or RT-PCR test.

b) Directions must be issued not to terminate any domestic worker and steps must be taken against employers who violate the same.

c) Karnataka State Unorganised Workers Social Security Board must take immediate steps to bring a COVID-19 compensation scheme specifically for the Domestic worker sector

vi. Cab-drivers and Auto-drivers
    a) Government must issue necessary order waiving interest on the vehicle loans
    b) Government must issue necessary orders to prevent police harassment
    c) Provision of regular testing of the workers, free medical treatment,  and health and life insurance benefits must be mandated
    d) Government must ensure toilet, water & food supply for drivers at various areas across in the city
    e) Government must provide for priority vaccination of drivers.

vii. Street Vendors

a) Government must issue necessary orders to prevent police harassment against street vendors and ensure that they are able to vend throughout the day.

b) Street vendors should be employed in community kitchens in slums and other working class areas to provide employment and protect food security

c) Provision of regular testing of the workers, free medical treatment,  and health and life insurance benefits must be mandated

d) Government must provide for priority vaccination of street vendors.

viii. Garment Workers

a) Government must issue necessary order mandating employers to make full payment of wages on time, that workers must not be terminated and establishments should not be closed. There must be strict enforcement of the order.

b) Government must issue necessary order mandating employers to provide transportation for workers in view of lockdown

c) Employers must ensure payment of risk allowance to all garment workers

d) Government must issue necessary order mandating employers to provide full and adequate safety equipment including N95 mask, gloves, hand sanitiser etc.

e) Provision of regular testing of the workers, free medical treatment, and health and life insurance benefits must be mandated

f) Government must provide for priority vaccination of garment workers.

ix. Metro workers, Bengaluru Smart City Workers and Other construction workers

  • The employer must organise free COVID-19 testing camps in all labour camps, worker colonies, migrant worker colonies and slums along with distribution of masks and sanitisers. These areas should be sanitized on a weekly basis.
  • The employer must provide free treatment and paid leave for workers who test postitive for COVID-19
  • Free vaccination camps must be organised in these camps as well.
  • Workers must be provided proper dignified and sanitary living conditions with all basic amenities that allow them to practice physical distancing.
  • Employers must ensure full payment of wages to all workers and to undertake and ensure that no lay-offs or retrenchments will be made

 x. Other concerns

a) Social media: State must set up responsive government officials/ help-handles to respond to distress calls. Especially when users point to failure of government mechanisms, due follow up must be made

b) Movement passes: Volunteer passes have to be issued to ensure to the Trade Unions, volunteer organizations and social workers so that they can undertake relief work.

c) Digital divide: Government must take steps to bridge the digital divide that is preventing those without access to technology from availing COVID-19 resources. Pamphlets, newspaper information, auto announcements, radio communications, and TV broadcasts must be utilized.

d) Government coordination with Voluntary Organizations: A connection between the government helpline and the organisations would streamline the present process. A ward level connection to hospitals is necessary, along with real time data.

Preparation: In view of predictions of an upcoming third wave, all precautionary steps must be taken to strengthen medical infrastructure and protect livelihoods of workers, to ensure that the lives of workers do not face a similar disaster yet again.