Disability-friendly places are not common in India.
Disability-friendly places are not common in India.

Worker rights in India:when actions fail words

The third edition of IRBI 2017 highlights that there is no apparent improvement in the way companies treat their employees despite incorporating progressive policies for worker welfare, safety and rights

New Delhi: Although businesses in India have over the years significantly progressed in recognizing and committing to better worker’s rights, safety and well-being, most companies are still laggards when it comes to translating intention into action.

The third edition of India Responsible Business Index (IRBI) 2017 highlights that there is no apparent improvement in the way companies treat their employees despite incorporating progressive policies for worker welfare, safety and rights, and draws attention to the fact that a lot remains to be done when it comes to actual implementation of policy commitments.

IRBI ranks the top 100 BSE-listed companies on their performance on five parameters—inclusive supply chain, community as stakeholders, community development, employee dignity and human rights and non-discrimination at the workplace.

In ensuring non-discrimination of employees at workplace, IRBI finds that the public sector companies are placed better than the private companies. Out of top 100 BSE-listed firms, 75 companies have recognized the principle of non-discrimination and equal opportunities in recruitment. However, only 27 entities recognize the principle of non-discrimination in the composition of company boards, of which 24 are private.

Pritha Venkatachalam, partner at Bridgespan Group, a philanthropy advisory, says that while the companies may be improving on some indicators, overall they need to do lot more towards being “more responsible", particularly on element of fair pay, benefits, provision for the disabled and disadvantaged. “It is a deep concern that only few companies provide medical insurance or provident fund (PF) benefits or how much companies are treating importance of fair pay or well-being of their employees," she notes.

Only 14 companies have explicitly committed to respecting and paying minimum wages with just five gone a step further to recognize “fair living wages". Likewise, only six companies have recognized providing benefits such as PF and medical insurance to its contractual employees. Just eight companies disclosed on assessing the situation of worker rights and labour issues in core businesses.

Although there are no specific laws that would oblige a business to provide for a discrimination-free working environment, vulnerable groups get their protection under the (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015.

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities (PWD) Act 2016, the IRBI notes, does not seem to have had a “significant influence" on companies to disclose their policies on PWD. While 81 companies disclosed the number of PWD in their workplaces, only 19 companies have recognized creation of disabled-friendly workspaces as part of their policy commitment. “It is one thing to say that you recognize the principle of equal opportunities and not-discriminating, but in terms of actual day-to-day recognition as well as provision of facilities, I think the companies are not doing enough," says Venkatachalam of Bridgespan.

A similar assessment is drawn by S.V. Nathan, chief talent officer and partner at Deloitte India, who says Indian companies need to do much more when it comes to creating disability-friendly spaces. “While there is intention, I don’t think there is much action. With regard to creating work space that could be called safe places, or that support people with disability that has not happened," he notes.

IRBI says that 48 firms identify caste as an identity that needs to be proactively included for diversity in an organization, but only 15 companies disclose numbers of scheduled caste (SC) and ST (scheduled tribe) employees of which 14 are PSUs. Tata Steel is the only private company that has disclosed that SC/ST communities form more than 16% of its workforce. Nathan of Deloitte explains that the PSUs are doing well on this aspect because of the “affirmative action" on diversification of workforce as a result of inclusion by mandate due to clear government guidelines and policy regarding it.

The report states that Sebi has reported a 12% increase in prevention of sexual harassment-related cases in their 2017 report, while a far more disturbing trend is the analysis of the indicator of “proximity of offenders to victims" where the figure of nearly 35% attempts of women abuse have been reported from workplaces or related business spaces.

On their part, some companies assert recognizing the need to identify and address actual or potentially adverse human rights risks that may be encountered directly or indirectly through its activities and business relationships. “We do so by creating awareness within employees, and ensuring that they ask questions, seek clarification and report potential human rights violations without fear of reprisal or retaliatory action," says Sumit Mitra, head of human resources and corporate services at Godrej Industries Ltd and associate companies. Godrej Consumer Products Ltd ranks ninth on the IRBI index on the employee well-being parameter.

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