Meeting on Occupational Safety, Health and Working conditions

In the month of February, Thozhilalar Ottrumai Iyakkam (Workers Unity Movement) held a meeting in Tamilnadu, on the theme “Occupational Safety, Health and Working conditions (OSHW) Code – An attack on workers’ rights “. Com Baskar of Thozhilalar Ottrumai Iyakkam, Com Kumanan, Organizer of Socialist Workers’ Organization, Com Era Rajendran, State General Secretary of 108 Ambulance Workers Union, Com Alazghunambi Welkin, General Secretary of UNITE – Trade Union of IT workers, Com Sujata Modi, President of Women Workers Union and Com N. Subin, General Secretary of Tamilnadu MRB Nurses Welfare Union addressed the meeting.

Com Baskar welcomed all the participants. He explained that Thozhilalar Ottrumai Iyakkam has been working to build the unity of the working class and raise its class consciousness. It has been holding a series of meetings against privatization and the anti-worker labour codes. This is the next meeting in the series, he said.

On behalf of Thozhilalar Ottrumai Iyakkam, Com Baskar made a presentation on the OSHW Code and its terrible impact on the rights of the workers. He recalled numerous incidents such as the Union Carbide gas leak, pollution of environment by Sterlite, and many others. Workers buried alive due to caving in of mines, workers killed by furnace blasts, etc., are commonplace. He pointed out that this code was enacted without consulting the workers or their trade unions, to satisfy the greed of the capitalists. It has nothing to do with “simplifying the labour laws”, as the government claims.

Thousands of workers die due to the unsafe conditions that prevail at work sites. Lakhs of workers are injured or maimed every year. Workers affected by these accidents are thrown out of work, without any compensation. Workers in many industries are perpetually exposed to hazardous conditions, whose ill-effects on their health manifest themselves later. Instead of safeguarding the health, safety and rights of all workers, the OSHW code eliminates a very large number of workers from its coverage, such as those who work in small factories, or on contract basis. Similarly IT employees, delivery workers, taxi drivers, gig workers, etc. are kept out of the purview of this act.

The government has stopped sending factory inspectors for inspection of factories. Factory owners are supposed self-certify that they are following the required safety regulations. In case workers have a complaint, they are expected to approach the factory owner himself! The OSHW code legalizes night-shift work for women workers, without guaranteeing their safety at the workplace or in commuting to and from work.  By setting a higher limit on number of workers in an industrial establishment or worksite as a condition for coverage under the Act, large numbers of contract workers, migrant and unorganized workers are excluded from its coverage. This Act has removed crucial safety provisions which workers in the construction industry, ports and docks, newspaper industry, mines, etc., had fought for and succeeded in getting implemented.

We need to intensify our struggle for ensuring healthy and safe working conditions. We must demand legislation that guarantees safe and healthy conditions at work for all workers. We must fight for mechanisms to enforce these laws. With this, Baskar concluded his presentation.

Com Kumanan said that the rights of the workers are being denied under the present political system. Not only BJP, but also Congress and other political parties have a role in bringing such an anti-worker legislation. These four labour codes have been enacted in order to intensify the exploitation of labour and to further dilute the existing labour laws, to enhance the profits of the capitalist class. The code has excluded a very large number of workers working in small factories from its scope. It has created conditions for extending the daily working hours of the workers. The government has announced that henceforth, it would not send factory inspectors to verify whether the factory implements safety norms or not. He pointed out that with such anti-worker provisions, the act has brutally violated the rights of the working class.

Com Kumanan drew the conclusion that if we workers take political power in our hands, then workers interests can be defended, instead of the interests of the capitalists.

Com Rajendran highlighted the conditions of the ambulance workers. He said that 108 ambulance workers work for 12-18 hours continuously, every day. In TN government hospitals, there is a requirement of over 47,000 medical support staff. The government claims to have employed 36,000 workers, whereas in reality only 27,000 workers are working. Many of them are women workers. They are not given any rest rooms or drinking water. They do not get a weekly break from their work. Nurses are employed on contract basis, although their services are essential for the healthcare of the people! They are often compelled to work for 24 hours without any break. Instead of safeguarding the rights of workers, the OSHW Code is further denying them.

Com Rajendran advocated following the path of Shahid Bhagat Singh. He put forward the urgent necessity to advance our struggles, with the perspective that the working class has to take political power in its hands.

Com Alazghu Nambi Welkin, General Secretary of IT workers Union explained the condition of workers in this sector. By severely exploiting the workers in this sector, IT organizations are making huge profits. IT is a knowledge based industry. Hence there is tremendous pressure on the people working in this sector to continuously upgrade their technical skills. At the same time, IT companies do not pay any attention to the mental health of IT workers. They are highly over-worked.  In the name of assessing the performance of IT professionals, periodic performance appraisals are done. These appraisals are totally lacking in transparency. Discrimination based on caste, religion and language prevails in the appraisal system and in deciding promotions.

IT employees lack job security and are always vulnerable to being thrown out of their jobs.  Comrade Welkin said that their union has put forward suggestions to the managements of the IT companies on how to safeguard the interests of the workers, but these have been ignored by the managements as well as by NASSCOM. They are focused only on making higher profits and they do not care for the welfare of the workers. He concluded by saying that the OSHW Code is going to make the working conditions of the IT employees much worse.

Workers in all sectors and particularly women workers are facing the brunt of the system, said Comrade Sujatha Modi, President of the Women Workers Union. Garment workers are forced to work continuously for many hours, without any break, to meet the high production targets set by the capitalists and the contractors. They are cruelly tortured. Women workers are not treated with dignity. Violence and terror prevails at work sites. Labour officers who are supposed to protect workers are hand in glove with the capitalists in terrorizing the workers. Labour conciliation committees do not want to take up sexual harassment cases at work places. Women workers are being asked to take their complaints to the State Women’s Commission.

When accidents occur at the work site, workers affected by the accident are terminated from work. Although the garment industry has been growing in India for over 30 years now, the government has no analysis or data on the health problems of the workers arising out of their work environment. Occupational safety and health is a very important concern for the workers. The new OSHW code that has been brought by the government, is in favour of the capitalists. It will not resolve the problems of the workers.  We have to oppose the four labour codes and demand that the rights of the workers are protected. In this important struggle, Com Sujatha assured the participants on the meeting that the Women Workers Union will fight along with other organizations to oppose the Labor Codes and for safety at the workplace.

Com Subin explained the terrible and exploitative work condition of the nurses working in TN government hospitals. Due to consistent struggles of the nurses, led by the Nurses’ Union, they have achieved some enhancement of their salaries. In Village Primary Hospitals, contract nurses are forced to work continuously for 24 hours. These contract nurses face insecurity of jobs and constant harassment by the authorities.

According to the government’s own statistics, less than 50% of the nurses’ posts are filled. Due to this shortage of nurses, one nurse has to perform the duties of two nurses. Government reports state that the TN health department is implementing a large number of projects. The entire work load of this falls on the medical staff, particularly on nurses. Instead of regularizing all nurses currently working on contract, the government has brought in the 11 month contract scheme. Although the court has ordered equal wages for equal work, this has not been implemented. The Nurses are severely exploited.

Com Subin pointed out that the Nurses Union has been working hard to make the nurses aware of their rights and to build unity of workers.

Following these presentations, several participants in the meeting came forward and expressed their views and concerns. Com Kala Murugesan, a nurse and an activist of the TN MRB Nurses Welfare Union, explained how those who work actively in the Union are harassed by the administration in various ways. She expressed her firm belief that only by fighting with unity, can the nurses win their rights.

Com Sindhan of COITU Nurses Union mentioned how the basic rights of workers are being denied. Fighting against the capitalists without compromise is the only way to put an end to exploitation. Com Vinodh working in the automobile industry pointed out how the capitalist class is dividing the workers in various ways and sabotaging our strength. He stressed on the necessity for the working class to overcome all these divisions which the capitalist class is creating and to strengthen our unity.

The meeting concluded with all participants resolving to strengthen the unity of the workers and to fight without compromise, against the anti-worker laws and other attacks on the working class.

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