Just a month ago two workers were reported dead in Assam while working in a petrochemical factory. In less than a month’s time, another tragedy has struck and has led to the death of two construction workers in Tamil Nadu. According to media reports, the two workers were engaged in making a supportive wall for the iron pipe that is supposed to supply hot water to the cooling tower. The trench collapsed leading to their death apart from injured workers, who were rushed to the hospital.
Industrial deaths and accidents along with poor working conditions are two major issues that pose a challenge to a labour-rich India. According to the Ministry of Labour and Employment records, there were 1,433 worker deaths and 28,404 others were injured in factories in 2011. According to the provisional data on 2012, the numbers still remained high even while showing a declining trend as far as worker deaths are concerned with 1,383 deaths and 28,441 injuries in factories.
Tamil Nadu with 110 worker deaths has registered the fourth-highest number of deaths along with Chattisgarh in the year 2012 to be preceded by Andhra Pradesh (156), Madhya Pradesh (215) and Gujarat (216). Jointly, the number of injured employees in these five states tantamount to 6,275 people. This brings the total number of casualties in these states to 7,082 in factories.
According to the academician, Sarbeswara Sahoo, “Workers in this industry face a lot of health issues. They have spinal cord problems because of the weight they carry, back issues, respiratory problems because of the amount of dust around them. Their living quarters are not hygienic and they are packed together in small spaces.”
One of the problems cited by Sahoo is that the security net provided by the social welfare schemes is able to benefit only the registered workers. But constructions workers are mostly non-contractual employees who are hired through contractors or sub-contractors with no proper employment records.
Providing a full-proof social security net to industrial workers and improving safety standard along with working conditions remains a challenge till date. TheBuilding and Other Construction Workers Related Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2013 is still pending in the Parliament even after the Standing Committee on Labour has made its recommendations in its report published on March, 2014.
One of the issues raised by the Committee in the report is the absence of any record of number of construction workers. The need for a regular centralised data mechanism is pressing and the report insists on the urgency of speeding up the registration of workers by the Central and State governments and Welfare Boards.
In the absence of an operational set of social welfare schemes benefiting the targeted group of workers and caught up in the cycle of non-contractual work relationships, constructions workers are left vulnerable in the hands of the employers and contractors. The number of deaths and injuries within the factory premises while working is, thus, a pressing problem that calls for immediate attention.