Workers denied drinking water

29.01.2010

Shipbreaking workers' union calls on employers and port authority to supply drinking water at shipbreaking sites in Mumbai, India.

INDIA: A volatile cocktail of manual work and intense sun without access to drinking water is putting the lives of shipbreaking workers in Mumbai at risk, according to unions. The average daily temperature in January is between 26 to 34 degrees celcius. During a project evaluation visit by an international delegation to the Mumbai shipbreaking site January 20, workers explained to union leaders how, despite repeated requests, they are faced with continual water shortages and often work in extremely hazardous conditions for 12 hours a day with nothing to drink.

Previously unorganized and with no union to represent them, the workers had been unable to speak out about the conditions they face. However following a successful union building project workers can now voice complaints to their union, the Mumbai Port Trust Dock and General Employees Union, without fear of recrimination. After hearing the workers' complaints the local union leadership visited several sites in the area and saw that none had drinking water available.

Both the employers and the local port authority are failing to provide enough drinking water for workers resulting in daily shortages. Due to the financial crisis the current volume of work in the shipbreaking industry in very high as ship owners cut capacity to maintain freight rates. Currently there are 12 ships in Mumbai, which has lead to an influx of workers in order to deal with the increased volume of ships being broken. To make the situation worse, not only are workers facing water shortages, but many of the workers' families are situated in the surrounding area are equally affected.

Despite the Indian Factories Act 1948 clearly spelling out that drinking water should be provided to workers this is widely being ignored. The local union leadership has stated that if the situation is not resolved then the only alternative maybe to call for industrial action among the workers. The International Metalworkers' Federation has been working closely with the shipbreaking workers as part of its union building project which has seen 2,500 workers organized in Mumbai, and a further 6,500 in Alang.

Rob Johnston IMF Executive Director addressed the workers at a rally and stated, "The workers in Mumbai have taken the decision to stand up for their rights by joining a trade union. There can be no more basic right than the right to drinking water, that's why you have the full support of the international trade union movement for your struggle."

Conditions in the shipbreaking yards in India are extremely hazardous and organizing workers remains a priority if working conditions are to improve. The union organized has achieved some improvements in personal protective equipment for the workers in Mumbai and Alang, but many health and safety issues are still neglected.  IMF is currently developing a program to assist shipbreaking workers in Bangladesh who also face appalling conditions.