New Delhi: Trade unions representing miners across the country urged the government to ratify an International Labour Organization (ILO) convention that seeks to promote worker rights in terms of health and safety in mining operations.
The unions plan to initiate a national campaign to put pressure on the government to sign it. Recognizing the ILO convention will help workers freely report accidents and demand information on hazards in the workplace from employers, union representatives said.
ILO’s resolution on mine safety, known as C176, came into force in 1998. Around 22 nations, including several developing nations such as Brazil, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, have signed the convention.
Labour welfare: (from left) Citu general secretary M.K. Pandhe, Icem industry director Joe Drexler and INMF general secretary B.K. Das. The unions plan to initiate a campaign for adoption of ILO standards. Raj Kumar/Mint
An estimated one million people, including contract workers, are engaged in mining in India, the world’s second largest mining workforce after China’s, according to Indian National Mineworkers’ Federation, which has 440,000 workers as its members.
The unions will also press upon the government to improve reporting standards in the mining industry, said M.K Pandhe, general secretary of Centre of Indian Trade Unions (Citu). “The government is not keen about the ILO convention and there is a lot of under-reporting in accidents,” he said.
According to Indian law, companies are supposed to report injuries to a worker on duty within 48 hours in most sectors and 72 hours in the case of mining, Pandhe said. “But when workers are hospitalized due to an accident, they are marked absent in muster rolls,” he said, adding that the problem is becoming more acute due to rising number of contract hiring.
“Our experience is that countries which have not ratified the ILO convention are likely to have substandard laws and that would apply to India as well,” said Joe Drexler, industry director at Geneva-based International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (Icem), an international trade union with 20 million members worldwide. Drexler said while the mining business is seeing a slowdown after a commodities boom between 2002 and 2008, the issue is all the more critical now because companies tend to compromise on health and safety in times of economic turmoil.
According to a letter written by a labour ministry official and reviewed by Mint, India cannot sign the ILO convention before several issues are resolved. The present Mines Act, 1952, the letter said, does not cover activities such as coal-handling plants and mineral beneficiation plants. It also said the Directorate General of Mines and Safety will need trained staff before it can ratify the ILO convention.
Trade unions say these are lame excuses. “All it needs is the government’s will. While we will want a negotiated settlement, we will go for industrial action if the government does not listen,” said Benoyendra K. Das, general secretary of Indian National Mineworkers’ Federation (INMF).