Every year, more than a thousand workers in Gurgaon, India’s leading automobile hub, meet with serious accidents. They lose their fingers, break their wrists, suffer nerve damage of the hands and sometimes even lose the use of their hands. This happens despite a slew of safety laws and monitoring agencies. With more than 100,000 workers in Gurgaon, increasing every day, working in over 600 companies, such incidents are only increasing.
Most workers in Gurgaon are poor migrants, and most of them are able to manage at best a contract job, which unlike a permanent role, makes them ineligible for many benefits available under India’s labor laws. Consequently, adequate support is seldom provided to injured workers, who, unable to fend for themselves in Gurgaon and follow through the complex and bureaucratic post-accident process, are forced to return to their villages with little hope to restart their careers. Besides the mental and physical trauma, they often settle for lesser-paying jobs, severely impacting their families and violently disrupting their lives.
These accidents also adversely affect the factories. Loss of skilled/trained labor, disruption caused by accidents, with its consequent drop in motivation, impedes productivity on the work floor. Recruiting and training new workers is costly for factories although they may not realise it. Many of them also do not want to see their employees suffer, but very often are part of the problem due to lack of intent and long term thinking about their businesses!
Who's at fault?
While there are some factories that prioritize worker safety and have implemented safety measures, others are ignorant, or worse, careless about the same. Workers in such factories are often over-worked on account of harsh schedules and exploitative working conditions.
A high percentage of workers do not have formal training and are almost entirely unaware of safety regulations that need to be followed. Very often, workers are kept in the dark about healthcare and compensation benefits such as Insurance (ESI - Employee State Insurance) - particularly the rules & regulations surrounding them. And to add to this misery, regulators who are supposed to oversee the following of all norms and processes are often negligent or overly accommodating.
Why hasn't this been resolved yet?
Your guess is as good as ours. This is a complex socio-economic scenario with factory owners, workers, regulators, and even us as buyers who want cheap components contribute to the failure of the system. Without getting into yet another blame game, let’s see what can be done.
Ok, so what can be done?
After our research report published in Sep15, and our work with injured workers since then, we believe that there are a number of actions needed:
1. First, the injured workers required immediate assistance after the accident from their employers and ESIC. This system is not working very well as of now creating immense suffering for poor workers and their families.
2. These accidents are happening in the supply chains of large car and two-wheeler manufacturers. We need to work with these large house-hold brands to improve safety in their supply chain so that these accidents do not happen at all.
3. In parallel, we need to educate workers about work-safety and ESIC benefits. Most of the injuries happen to young people who are not trained for this high-risk and high-pressure manufacturing. Its only themselves who van ultimately change the system for better for themselves. Our role is to support them through knowledge and provision of a platform to learn from each other.
So what are we doing?
Since our SEP15 report which was funded by the Trustees and a crowd-fund, we have had the financial support from the 1991 batch of IIM Ahmedabad. As a result we now have a team and a worker support centre based in Manesar. This team is focussed in helping injured workers obtain better ESIC healthcare and compensation. As of Apr17, the team has helped 550+ injured workers and obtained compensation for them of more than Rs20 Lacs. These numbers will grow to more than a thousand workers and compensation of more than Rs1.5cr by end 2017.
The reliable data from above work will help us in making the case for the car and two-wheeler manufacturers to improve safety in their supply chain. We have contacted Maruti, Hero and Honda in this regard and will progress this with them.
We have already started forming worker support groups so that they can educate each other, with our guidance, and improve their awareness of safety and ESIC. More than 200 workers have sat in these discussions already and the message is spreading well. We are not promoting unions (who have not been able to help any of our injured workers) or political views or parties. This is non-partisan non-political effort.
You can read them in the quarterly updates on the main page of this website. We have a long long way to go! This is a complex issue, with its own challenges, and so tricky, that there are very few organisations working in this area. We are confident that we will make a difference, so join us and our efforts. Help us help these workers!