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Rising Health Hazards

Occupational Safety and Labour

Samit Kumar Carr

ILO was created in 1919. The Constitution contained ideas tested within the international Association for Labour Legislation, founded in Basel in 1901. Advocacy for an international organisation dealing with labour issues began in the nineteenth century, led by two industrialists, Robert Owen (1771-1853) of Wales and Daniel Lerand (1783-1859) of France. The driving forces for ILO's creation arose from security, and humanitarian, political and economic considerations. Summarising them, the ILO Constitution's Preamble states that the High Contracting Parties were moved by the sentiments of justice and humanity as well as by the desire to secure the permanent peace of the world.

The formation of the ILO was possible in the European industries, and did not turn into a reality for their Indian counterparts and other underdeveloped and developing nations, simply because of two reasons, namely, continuing with the old mindset of production management in mines and industries, and the double standards of developed nations who maintained one standard in their own country and a different one in their colonies and uncompromising commitment to enhancement of surplus value, thanks to indulgent attitude of the local ruling class and delayed advent of consciousness among traditional trade union leadership.

India is a capitalist country and surplus accumulation and profit mainly depends upon unethical ways of appropriation of natural resources, corruption and extra economic coercion based on caste-creed, gender, religion, nationality etc as Dr B R Ambedkar rightly says, "The caste is not merely the division of labour, but division of labour based upon graded inequality". Right from wage fixation of different grade of various industries and amenities provided to the workers basically depends upon caste background of the workers.

India has total workforce of 47.43 crore, out of which 33.69 crore workers are in the rural areas and 13.72 crore are the urban workers. In the rural areas, 35.3 percent of the workers are employed as casual labourers while the figure is 14.6 percent in the urban areas. About 48,000 workers die in India of which 38 fatal accidents take place every day in the construction sectors and out of 11 million cases of occupational diseases in the world 1.9 million cases (17%) are contributed by India and out of 0.7 million deaths in the world 0.12 (17%) is contributed by India. Major cases of accidents at workplaces and occurrences of occupational diseases that expose the pitfalls of safety management and pollution control system in production process for which majority of public & private sectors, industrial units and mining companies, government regulatory agencies are responsible because they never comply the labour laws to protect workers' occupational safety and health rather insisted upon intensive production process violating Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) standard at work. Not even that, the employers employed contractual workers for skilled, semiskilled and unskilled work in permanent nature of job. These contractual workers are mostly from socially and educationally backward communities like adivasi, dalit, OBC & MOBC and Muslims who are compelled to work as daily wage labour in mines and industries arid most of them are the worst victims of occupational accidents and diseases.

This is true that safety standards, are maintained in some big and medium scale industries where majority of the permanent workers are employed from upper caste. Safety standards are not applicable for the workers belonging to backward communities engaged as contractual workers in the same companies, double standard is also visible here while maintaining safety standards at work place. No workers of construction, small scale and unorganised sectors units heard about safety and health at work. The industrialist very often talk about investment but no such investment is found for maintaining OSH standard by installing dust and polluting control equipment and machinery as such things are costlier than the lives of dalit workers.

Possibly, insensitivity towards workers and downtrodden communities Government of India did not ratify recommendations of ILO's Occupational Safety & Health Convention, 1981 (No.155) and Occupational Safety & Health Recommendations of 1985 (No.161) which are among the recommendations, selected code of practice of occupational safety and health that starts from convention 150, whereas India has remained permanent member of the governing body of ILO since 1919. It is interesting to note that during the British rule over 18 years of ILO, India agreed to 22 conventions whereas after independence, only 18 conventions have been agreed upon in the last 65 years. Surprisingly this has not become one of the issues trade union movements in India. Some NGOs and few trade union leaders realised the importance of the issues relevant to OSH and has been raising them in national and international level Workshop and public seminar organised by the NGOs.

As occupational safety & health has not become a national priority in India yet, so government doesn't have any data base of occurrences of accidents at work and occupational diseases. Recently, Government of India has amended forty four labour laws and clubbed into four labour codes, OSH code being of them. But mandatory clauses of enforcing labour laws have been diluted or removed from the present labour code as I came to know from different sources. As the Factories Act 1948, Mining Act 1952 were basically for ensuring safety standard at work, it has definition of factory and mines and workmen (employees) compensation Act 1923 and ESI Act 1948 were to ensure social security of the workers are being amended in such a manner that will push the workers into death trap and social security of the workers will not be ensured, therefore, main streaming of OSH in labour movements in India has emerged as issue of great importance and union can start mainstreaming by creating OSH cells in their respective trade unions for advancing campaign for ensuring human rights developing occupational safety and health culture at work.

The control of health hazards necessitates technological solution of the pollutant control. But such solution with modern technology in production process may Reduce the requirement of existing labour force, a section of whom may eventually lose job, but this is not desirable at all. The experience shows that such type of reduction units is better run in an worker's co-operative format where all the workers including the skilled and technical employees are jointly the owner and managers of the industrial unit and the State/Government participates as a facilitator and monitoring authority.

With this in view, it may be suggested that simultaneous incorporation of modern technology to avoid health hazards, and management of the production unit through worker's co-operative so that the workers do not lose job for technological change in production.

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Frontier
Vol. 52, No. 24, Dec 15 - 21, 2019