The IRBI 2017 report released earlier this year suggests that while 71 companies out of the top 100 BSE-listed companies reported providing safety training for permanent employees during 2016-17, but only 51 extended the same for contractual employees. File photo: Mint
The IRBI 2017 report released earlier this year suggests that while 71 companies out of the top 100 BSE-listed companies reported providing safety training for permanent employees during 2016-17, but only 51 extended the same for contractual employees. File photo: Mint

Why contractual workers remain deprived of safe work space

Many firms have minimal safety provisions for their permanent employees but there is a growing trend of hiring more contractual workers who are not covered by these policies, say experts

New Delhi: Improving the safety and health of workers helps achieve the sustainable development goal (SDG-8) on decent work and economic growth.

“The performance of employees is directly proportional to the work environment and their perception about safety. This ultimately affects their productivity and efficiency," says Rachna Mukherjee, chief human resource officer, Schneider Electric India.

However, the India Responsible Business Index (IRBI) 2017 report released earlier this year suggests that while 71 of the top 100 BSE-listed companies reported providing safety training for permanent employees during 2016-17, only 51 did so for contractual employees.

With 50% of the top companies not reporting what kind of safe and healthy work environment they have for their contractual employees, on World Day for Safety and Health at Work we look at what deters companies from adopting this responsible business practice.

S.V. Nathan, partner and chief talent officer at Deloitte India explains that companies do not necessarily avoid extending safety training to contractual workers as an economic measure but more because of the nature and duration of contracts.

“Also, implementation is usually done by a contractor who does not have the wherewithal for it, though the principal employer is supposed to take care of the training. There is thus a gap between policy and implementation," he notes.

According to the 2017 International Labour Organization estimates, 2.78 million workers die every year globally because of occupational accidents and work-related diseases, of which over 380,000 (13.7%) result from occupational accidents. While there is no fresh data specific to India, every year almost 1,000 workers die and a quarter of a million are injured in industries in organised sectors, according to a 2017 Indian Council of Medical Research report.

Amitabh Behar, chief executive officer, Oxfam India, says many companies have minimal safety provisions for their permanent employees but there is a growing trend of companies hiring more contractual workers who are not covered by these policies. Behar states that it is “worrying" to see firms unwilling to learn from their failures to ensure the safety of their workers. “Many companies where major accidents have been reported because of lack of safety training, are not disclosing crucial details of the percentage of workers trained or the areas in which training is being imparted to them," he said.

Yogesh Mudras, managing director, UBM India, an exhibition organiser firm, agrees that contractual workers face greater health and safety risks than permanent employees. “The nature of contract assignments makes it less likely for a temporary worker to be adequately trained and being fully aware of the job hazards and risks," he notes.

Cognizant of the need to impart safety training to all employees across the supply chain, some businesses have developed dedicated programmes for worker safety, including contractual workers.

Schneider Electric has developed a programme for all employees that helps in social, mental, emotional and physical well-being. It has provided safety training to more than 30,000 employees since the inception of the programme.

Birla White, a white cement manufacturer, also provides safety induction training, carries out risk assessment, and creates a safe work procedure. “Every incident, including near misses, is being reported and investigated, following which action is taken. Peer learning in the form of red corner notices and black corner notices and audit findings are also complied by area owners," says Sandeep Bhatnagar, head—health and safety at Birla White.

Behar of Oxfam India says that if the private sector wants to contribute to a more equal opportunity society, it will need to go beyond the minimum compliance of laws.

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