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Health and safety a major concern for South Asia chemical and pharmaceutical unions

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10 December, 2020Increasing industrial accidents, health and safety risks, lack of relevant information, precarious work, digitalisation in production and building union networks were some of the key issues discussed at the South Asia chemical and pharmaceutical unions meeting on 27 November.

South Asia chemical and pharmaceutical workers were on the forefront, facing major challenges as companies ramped up production of materials to control the pandemic. Despite efforts to prevent the spread of infection at the workplace, maintaining physical distancing remains a major challenge.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, frequent accidents and near-accidents, excessive working hours, deployment of precarious workers in key functions and environmental impacts were major concerns.

Unions underlined the urgent need to improve safety training, increase information, stop precarious work, set up health and safety committees, and to take action against attacks on workers’ rights.

Participants decided to take union action to improve information on materials handled by workers and their effects, both physical and on the environment, as well as to campaign for workers’ rights to know about the risks, participate in safety programmes, and refuse unsafe work.

Few women in the sector are unionized. Women mostly work as managers or on fixed-term contracts. The meeting agreed on the need to create an environment for equal opportunities and to bring more women workers into the sector and into the unions.

Apoorva Kaiwar, IndustriALL South Asia regional secretary, said:

“We are seeing increased attacks on workers’ rights during the pandemic. In the chemical and pharmaceutical sector, a strong South Asia regional union network is necessary to share information, develop joint actions to address the health and safety crisis, the job losses and the rampant increase in precarious employment. We are looking forward to strengthen this network, to communicate and to raise our voices."

Tom Grinter, IndustriALL chemicals and pharmaceuticals director, said:

"South Asia is a strategically important region for chemical and pharmaceutical industries. It is important to establish strong national as well as regional networks with the objective to address workers’ concerns and to establish social dialogue with employers and governments." 

IndustriALL Executive Committee members from the region Sanjay Vadhavakar and Anton Maarcus participated in the meeting.

The 44 unionists from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka agreed to intensify union organizing and strengthen union networks through improved communications and joint actions.