(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
August 31 , 2008
HEALTH, SAFETY AND ENVIRONMENT AT WORKPLACES
UPA Govt's Lip Sympathy Exposed
M K Pandhe
IN a recent world conference on 'Health, Safety and Environment' held at Seoul, (South Korea) the representatives of the government of India saw that various countries in the world have a documented policy of this important subject. Shockingly, despite a lapse of six decades after independence the government of India has not spelt out any concrete policy towards health, safety and environment at work place.
India has also not ratified most of the ILO Conventions concerning these aspects which underlines utter neglect by the Indian government on one of the most vital aspect of quality of work for our working class.
The ministry of labour, government of India has made an attempt to draft ‘National Policy on Safety, Health and Environment at Workplace’ in a hurry and called a meeting of stakeholders on August 7, 2008 to consider the policy. No representative of the employers’ organisations such as FICCI, CII, ASSOCHAM etc. attended the meeting which only exhibited their lack of concern about these crucial issues. Their tall talk of “affirmative action”, “self-certification” and “self-compliance” etc. was also completely exposed by their absence. Only the representative of the small scale organisations attended the meeting, which also advocated exemption to small scale industry from all inspections!
On the contrary, all the trade union representatives were present in the meeting and sharply criticised the approach of the government of India towards safety, health and environment.
Though the preamble of the document mentions the Directive Principles of State Policy enshrined in the Constitution of India, the lack of implementation of the same by the government during the last 60 years came out clearly.
The Directive Principles concerning these aspects clearly provides:
For securing the health and strength of employees – men and women
that the tender age of children are not abused
that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength
just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief are provided and
that the government shall take steps, by suitable legislation or in any other way to secure the participation of employees in the management of undertakings, establishments or other organisations engaged in any industry.
The trade union representatives criticised the policies of the government of India which callously ignored the Directive Principles. They noted that India after 60 years of independence employed the largest number of child labour in the world, even in hazardous industries. They noted the India ranked 128 in 177 countries in the world in human development as pointed out by UNDP Report for 2007. Deterioration of social security measures in India clearly points out violations of the Directive Principles of State Policy. Without properly reviewing how the Directive Principles have been implemented during the last six decades, the government of India cannot decide what steps should be taken to overcome the deficit created during this long period, the trade union representatives pointed out.
VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
The National Policy document looks like an “Election Manifesto” of bourgeoisie parties which provide a lot of promises not meant for implementation, noted the writer who attended the meeting on behalf of the CITU.
The draft of the National Policy stated, “Government of India firmly believes that without safe, clean environment and healthful working conditions, social justice and economic growth cannot be achieved and that safe and healthy working environment is recognised as a fundamental human right”.
The TU representatives unanimously noted that this human right is today absent in Indian conditions. The ‘firm belief’ of the government is not seen in practical implementation today. The government does not say how the violation of this human right is going to be restored.
The National Policy further noted, “The changing job pattern and working relationships, the rise in self-employment, greater sub-contracting, outsourcing of work, homework and increasing number of employees working far away from their establishment, pose problems of management of occupational safety and health risks at workplaces”.
The representatives of trade unions pointed out that all these aspects are created by the policy of the government of India’s pursuit of globalisation. Regular jobs are reduced by VRS and contractual jobs are increasing even in public sector and government services. Outsourcing has become a key slogan of the government of India. If these policies are continued in future, despite adoption of the National Policy document, conditions are bound to deteriorate in the country and working class would suffer as a result of it, the TU representatives asserted categorically.
The National Policy document correctly points out the impending risks in our industrial undertakings in the following words:
“The increasing use of chemicals, exposure to physical, chemical and biological agents hazard potential unknown to people, the indiscriminate use of agro-chemicals including pesticides, agricultural machineries and equipment and their impact of health and safety of exposed population, industries with major accident risks, effects of computer controlled technologies and alarming influence of stress at work in many modern jobs may pose serious safety health and environmental risks”.
While fully agreeing with the formulation, the trade unions pointed out the government of India has not taken any step to tackle these problems. The document does not say how these issues would be sorted out in a time-bound manner. Regarding the IT sector despite CITU demand for legislation, the government of India is not taking any measure on the plea that it would lead to reducing IT jobs in the country.
The trade unions pointed out that several multinational companies do not implement the safety rules in India, which they implement in their own countries. The government of India is not intervening to ensure full implementation of safety rules in these undertakings. Issues raised by trade union are ignored by the government. The trade unions wanted to know how a mere formulation of the policy would result in a change in the situation on the ground.
The Action Programme in the policy document contained several promises, which are likely to remain on paper as in the case of National Common Minimum Programme of the UPA government. Trade unions wanted a time-bound action programme if they are not to remain only assurances. The government should state that within the next five years what they would ensure in the country on the question of safety, health and environment. Whatever is possible to achieve should be stated. “The action programme promises heaven but conditions are likely to remain like hell even after 5 years” a TU representative commented.
The Action Programme has claimed to provide an effective enforcement machinery including compensation and rehabilitation of affected persons “by effectively enforcing all applicable laws and regulations concerning safety, health and environment at workplaces in all economic activities through an adequate and effective labour inspection system and providing them with technical information and advice”. It further promises, “by amending progressively the existing laws dealing with safety, health and environment in line with international instruments.”
The trade unions pointed out that the UPA government’s policy of abolition of inspector raj and its concessions to smaller enterprises not to file returns under several labour laws and asked how the government’s claim of strengthening inspection machinery would be implemented in the country. They noted that most of the state governments had no adequate staff to statutorily inspect the establishments. The government’s direction of banning recruitment and filling up of vacant posts has resulted in depletion of the number of inspectors available. The corruption prevailing in the inspection machinery has made a mockery of the whole system of implementation of the labour laws. Moreover, when over 90 per cent of the workforce in the country is not covered by the labour laws how can the inspection machinery be strengthened by the government. The TUs demanded explanation from the government spokesmen on these issues.
The representative of AITUC noted that the number of ILO Conventions ratified by the British in 28 years is the same that independent India ratified in 60 years. He demanded that the government of India should give a commitment which ILO Conventions concerning safety, health and environment would be ratified in the next five years.
NO WORKERS INVOLVEMENT
The BMS representative noted that trade unions are not involved in monitoring the health safety and environment measures. The Labour Progressive Federation representative observed that mere promises without effective implementation mechanism would not make any improvement in the situation.
The HMS representative demanded creation of fund for the workers rendered unemployed due to closure of units. Without a source of livelihood how can the workers maintain his or her health, he questioned.
The CITU representative pointed out that all the promises given by the government in the action programme will remain on paper since the government is not prepared to spend money from the consolidated fund. The government wants to create a special fund by imposing cess on the industry. The employers are bound to oppose it and the government would not implement the assurances for want of availability of funds.
The CITU representative criticised the industrial houses for not providing sufficient funds to ensure safe, healthy and environment-friendly working conditions. With development of industry, the pollution is increasing and dangerous effluents are discharged in rivers which have caused serious health problems for the society at large. Both ILO and WHO had conducted a lot of studies on these aspects but the information is not being utilised to implement the safety standards in the country.
The CITU pointed out that the refusal of the government of India to ratify the ILO convention No. 174 on safety in mines has resulted in lapse of maintaining safety standards in the mining industry.
The CITU demanded that the ministry of labour should redraft the National Policy as well as Action Programme in the light of suggestions given by trade unions and an another meeting should be called to finalise the National Policy draft.
The representatives of various ministries of the government welcomed the draft and appreciated the initiative of the labour ministry.
The labour ministry promised to consider the suggestions before finalising the draft.