Labour, Jobs and Employment – Harmonization of labour laws, gender gap, unemployment, etc.

How to strengthen the National Occupational Safety and Health systems


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Ensuring occupational safety in India

Occupational Safety is at peril in India

  • It’s been a decade since the National Policy on Safety, Health and Environment at the Workplace (NPSHEW) was announced.
  • It called for a legislation on safety, health and environment at workplaces.
  • Yet, only the manufacturing, mining, ports and construction sectors are covered by existing laws on Occupational Safety and Health (OSH).
  • Around 2.3 lakh workers were affected and 2,500 died in more than 81 industrial accidents in the past three-and-a-half decades.
  • Yet sectors such as agriculture, services and transport remain unlegislated from the point of work-safety.

Why in news again?

  • The issue has been flagged by the Directorate General Factory Advice Service and Labour Institutes (DGFASLI) of the Union Ministry of Labour & Employment.
  • In 2018, the DGFASLI suggested that a comprehensive legislation on OSH covering all sectors needed to be developed within three years.
  • Progress, however, hasn’t been much. There has also not been a specific budget to support the effective implementation of policy.

Various sectors are uncovered. Why?

I. Factories Act not enforced

  • Under the Factories Act, 1948, the state governments are empowered to frame their respective state factories rules and enforce both the Act and the Rules in their states.
  • But these functionaries are not adequately staffed for enforcing the Act and the Rules. In fact, many posts under have been lying vacant.
  • Besides this, the central rules under this are not available.
  • These rules are required to be framed and enforced by an authority under the central government for the factories under the administrative control of the central government and public sector undertakings.
  • It is also worrying that the Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises too do not have any legislation to cover the safety and health of the workers.

II. Dock Workers Act, 1986 and Regulations, 1990 enforced in major ports only

  • The Dock Workers (Safety, Health and Welfare) Act, 1986 and Regulations, 1990 have been enforced only in major ports by the DGFASLI.
  • In other ports, the state governments are required to frame respective state regulations and enforce the provisions of the both, the Act and the Regulations, in these ports.
  • However, till date, none of the states have framed their regulations for enforcement in these ports.
  • These ports are also handling huge quantities of cargo, including dangerous goods; the absence of regulation on safety and health of the workers and its enforcement is a major gap

III. Building and Other Construction Workers’ Act not being enforced in true spirit

  • The Building and Other Construction Workers’ Act, 1996, is being enforced by the Labour Commissioners at the centre and at the state Level.
  • However the safety and health provisions under the Act are highly technical in nature and are not being enforced in true letter and spirit.

IV. Limited research on occupational safety

  • Modern approaches for dealing with safety, health and environment at workplace demands research in the area.
  • But the number of institutes in the country for research and development are limited and these too are not fully equipped for carrying out their activities effectively.
  • Capturing data related to occupational safety and health across all the sectors has also been an issue for a long time, which has not been taken seriously till date.
  • The most recent facts and figures shared by the ministry in Parliament in February 2019 were up to 2016 only.
  • It is important to have suitable schemes for subsidy and provision of loans to enable effective implementation of the policy. However, such a scheme too has not been launched so far.

V. The glooming Agriculture sector

  • The agriculture sector is the largest sector of economic activity and needs to be regulated for safety and health aspects.
  • But the sector is lacking on legislation on safety and health for workers in this sector.
  • There are certain Acts on occupational safety and health pertaining to certain equipment or substances, namely, the Dangerous Machines Regulation Act, the Insecticides Act.
  • But the enforcement authorities are not identified under these Acts and hence are not being enforced.
  • Lack of legislation on safety and health in the agriculture sector is hindering the ratification of ILO convention 155.
  • Ratification of ILO conventions concerning occupational safety and health needs to be expedited, says the profile document on occupational health prepared by the DGFASLI.
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