Dangerous Small Scale Industries are killing their Workmen!
Author : MyLegalWork Staff
Our work conditions affect our efficiency and mental health. We need the most suitable environment for churning out ideas, finishing spreadsheets, making power points and many other activities which come with working in an office.
This healthy environment should exist even in small scale industries. Rules exist to protect the workers from exploitation. However, there are some employers who do not need to offer their workers with basic necessities of a working environment. Many employees are killed because of lack of precaution taken by the employer in the course of business.
Who are these employers?
The laws stating the occupational safety rules have one thing in common. They do not apply to all establishments. They have a qualifying clause which states the minimum number of workmen they must have in order for the Acts to apply to them. This is the threshold for applicability.
All of the statutes limit their scope to those employers and companies which have more than 10 workmen. Those employers who have less than 10 workmen fall under the informal or unorganized sector.
Why was the scope of the Acts limited?
There are a total of sixteen occupational safety laws in India. The informal sector does not comply with these labour laws because they do not want to get bogged down by countless regulatory and compliance burdens. This makes it easy for the small-scale informal industries to enter the marketplace.
The policy makers were aware that in the initial stages an industry need to be supported to ensure that they can sustain in the economy. However, this caused those industries having limited growth plans or limited workers to bypass the compliance requirements completely. This has turned increasingly harmful for the workers in such small industries.
What are the Informal Industry statistics in India?
India's informal industry employs about 90% of the workforce and generates only 50% of national product. This itself shows a grave income disparity which implies that the workmen employed are from the poorer sections of society.
Though the number of workers underwent an increase in the recent years, the number of workmen in the formal industry showed a decline from which we can infer that a large amount of workmen have made the move to the informal sector. Even though the number of workmen in the informal sector is extremely high, individually, the employers are many. These employers have no legal obligation to ensure a safe working environment to their workmen or employees.
How are big employers taking advantage of the lack of safety regulations?
All those industries that need the utmost amount of safety regulations, safety gear, healthcare training, insurance, etc are converted to the informal sector so that these overheads need not be incurred.
Many employers in the formal sector also use this legal loophole to outsource those work processes which require many safety procedures to independent contractors, each having less than 10 workmen.
What kind of harm is being wrought on the workers?
Lets take cases from life incidents.
On 21 June 2016, two workmen died while they were trying to rubberize the interior of a water tank because they were subjected to extremely poisonous gases in the closed space. The material used for the process was extremely hazardous. The employer knew of the dangers but chose not to provide any sort of safety mask or gear to protect the workers from the fumes.
Sewer cleaners also work in extremely pitiable conditions. They enter sewers full of excrement, broken glass bottles, garbage, dead animals and many other toxic wastes without any protective gear. Almost all of them do the job for negligible amounts of money and enter the sewers with only their daily undergarments. Thousands die on the job. Seeing the horrible injustice and indignity to their lives, the government banned this job. However, this order is not followed up. Many workers aren't even aware of the fact that they are working illegally. Many who do, do not mind the job because they get paid for it, no matter the safety and health risks.
Many other workers face injuries and occupational diseases like respiratory problems, skin cancer, infections and amputations which not only decreases their earning capacity but the employer also washes his hands off any medical expenses which the poor workman incurs. Some of them die before the age of 60 due to occupation-related health issues. Due to lack of proper healthcare facilities and funds, workmen die from recoverable occupational diseases as well.
Is anything done for the people who die on the job?
Usually, the defaulting parties get prosecuted and punished under the applicable law. Usually, to make sure that safety procedures are followed, checks are conducted by the dozen odd-authorities who regulate the industries. These checks are enough to prevent baseless deaths which can be easily prevented, when the authorities do not succumb to corruption.
In the case of the two workers who died in the water tank due to suffocation, their employer paid compensation to the tune of Rs 8 lakhs to their families under the Workmen Compensation Act. This Act states the minimum and maximum limit of compensation paid to the families of the victim in the case of a work related death. However, the Employee Compensation Act says nothing about occupational safety regulations which must be mandated by the employers. Thus, under employment/labor laws, the employers cannot be punished for their blatant disregard for safety procedures. They just have to pay a monetary compensation in case death occurs.
Irrespective of the number of workmen, the basic necessities of work environment must be regulated for all industries and establishments. Defaulters must be penalized heavily to restrain such practices simply because they are committing a homicide of sorts. They know the inherent risks but do nothing to stop the effects of such risks because they want to maximize profits. A welfare legislation must be passed to improve the conditions of the workmen. The legislature needs to lay down strict procedures on safety standards and regulations so that ceaseless killing of innocent workers does not become normalized.
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