8 August, 2022At a roundtable on the appalling state of occupational safety and health in India held in Delhi on 29 July, IndustriALL affiliates strongly demanded better safety for all workers.
The roundtable was organised by IndustriALL Global Union which was represented by its leadership and that of the Indian affiliates. Participants were drawn from officials of the ministry of labour and employment including the chief labour commissioner of India, the directorate general of mines safety and representatives of the public sector coal mining and steel manufacturing companies along with the Confederation of Indian Industry.
According to data collected by IndustriALL in 2021, at least 429 accidents occurred in the manufacturing industries, including chemical and pharmaceuticals, mining, and steel, in which more than 352 workers lost their lives and over 700 workers were injured. In the first half of 2022, at least 78 industrial and mine accidents have been reported, killing at least 199 workers and injuring more than 348. It is from this background, and to focus attention on the dangerous state of industrial safety and the steps that need to be taken to prevent industrial accidents, that the roundtable was held. Such ‘accidents’ are vastly underreported in the country. Affiliates demanded that governments and employers must release the information on industrial accidents and make it accessible to trade unions for scrutiny.
Inadequate hazard identification process and risk assessment, lack of training especially for precarious workers, the inadequate number of health, safety and factory inspectors, absence of safety audits of industrial establishments, and government-sanctioned slackness in management’s commitment towards safety at workplaces, among other reasons, contribute to industrial incidents’ occurrence in the country.
The state of health and safety further deteriorates as production moves down the supply chain to small and medium enterprises which face the brunt of cost-cutting by large corporations to maximize their own profits. Meagre fines encourage small and medium enterprises to ignore health and safety standards at the workplace. The passing of the new Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code 2019 has changed the role of the factory inspectors.
“The situation is only set to worsen with the new labour code in which the earlier mandatory provisions to ensure workplace health safety have been removed. Now principal employers cannot be subjected to criminal action in case of workers’ death,”
said Sanjay Vadhavkar, general secretary of Steel, Metal and Engineering workers Federation of India (SMEFI) and a member of IndustriALL executive committee.
Government officials and mining and steel industry representatives shared that they have several bipartite and tripartite committees on occupational health and safety that meet on a regular basis. They said that they will work to incorporate the demands made by the trade union representative in this roundtable.
Kemal Özkan, Assistant General Secretary, IndustriALL Global Union who chaired the roundtable said
“Self-certification under the new labour codes is going to majorly undermine workplace safety in India. We must not forget that workers are the real experts on the matter as they face the risks. Workers have the right to know workplace hazards, the right to refuse or shut unsafe work and the right to fully participate in decision-making and implementation of health and safety policies. Therefore, we demand that governments and employers must engage with unions as equal partners to better health and safety conditions at workplaces.”
At the recently concluded International Labour Conference, delegates adopted a resolution to add the principle of a safe and healthy working environment to the International Labour Organization’s Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. India, as a member of the ILO, will need to take steps to ensure better safety at workplaces.