Labour Investigation Committee (1946)||
This Act and the Maternity Benefit Acts are the only legislative measures of social insurance so far in India. The Workmen's Compensation Act has been amended several times and was improved in several respects in 1933 as a result of the Royal Commission's recommendations.
The working of the Act leaves much to be desired, especially in small establishments and in mofussil areas where attempts are commonly made to avoid payment of compensation to the workers by one means or another. The bigger companies generally observe the provisions of the Act although even here it appears that minor injuries often go unreported. There is avoidable
delay in the disposal of applications in the mofussil as judicial officers are inclined to stick more to Judical formalities and procedure than to the observance of the essence and spirit of the Act and as other Officers who are appointed as Commissioners are, too busy with other duties to dispose of the cases under the Act expeditiously. There are workers, particularly in districts, who are not even aware of the existence of the Act and there are many others who have only a-vague idea of their rights under it. Adequate steps are not taken either by Government, employers or trade unions to educate the workers in this regard. Special efforts are needed to familiarise the workers with their rights under the Act. Under the existing law, more negligence on the part of the worker does not disentitle him to compensation, though it does if he acts in contravention of a specified order. This fact is not generally known to working classes. Exhibition of the main provisions of the Act in Indian languages in a conspicuous place in every establishment which comes under the Act and giving each worker a copy of the summary in his language as soon as he is employed would be useful. The labour Welfare Officers should make it a part of their work to hold periodical educative meetings where information on the benefits offered by the various Labour Acts, including the Workmen's Compensation Act, should be given. This will help no doubt, but if education is given by Trade Unions on the lines of the Textile Labour Association of Ahmedabad, the results will be highly satisfactory.
No agencies are generally available to render legal or other assistance to the workers in securing compensation due to them. A worker is sometimes faced with the embarrassing alternative of pressing his claim for compensation and losing, his job afterwards or of accepting whatever is offered by his employer, but with the assurance of continuing in service. Well-intention Inspectors of Factories often intervene in case of accidents and secure some compensation,. though this is no part of their legitimate duties. It is desirable that the inspecting staff should be empowered, as under the Payment of Wages Act, to take up cases of workers who have not been paid due compensation by the employers. A worker finds it extremely difficult to secure legal advice on account of his poverty with the result that he is sometimes forced by the fear of not getting anything to accept a much smaller amount that when is legally due to him. We agree with the Bihar Labour Enquiry Committee that free legal advice at the cost of the State should be provided to the injured workman. Similarly, it is essential that the injured worker should be assisted free of charge in getting his loss of capacity scientifically assessed by medical experts. Appointment of a panel of qualified doctors by Government for the purpose of giving free medical advice to the injured worker and to the Commissioner of Workmen's Compensation would considerably help the workers in getting their due compensation.
The Act has been adopted by the industrially important States, but its working is far from satisfactory. Even in Mysore, according to the Memorandum furnished by the Commissioner of Labour, "the Act requires radical improvements in favour of the workmen who do not derive as much benefit from, its provisions as was intended by the sponsors of the Act, in view of- the numerous technicalities introduced in it which are working great hardship to ignorant .work-people and the employers are benefiting there from at the expense of the workmen.... ., The intentions of the Legislature are not fulfilled in practice in view of the provisions therein which cannot be strictly followed mainly owing to the ignorance of the workmen."
In this connection mention may be made of the Textile Labour Association Ahmebabad, which is doing a real service to the cause of labour. The success of the Act in Ahmedabad is entirely due to this Association. Almost all the cases coming before the Court are handled by this Association even though to workmen in some cases do not happen to be its members. In Bombay City, no Trade Union as such can be credited with having done anything in the matter of securing compensation. There are, however, two Claims Agencies in Bombay which assist workmen by advice or by undertaking their cases on moderate fees and their assistance is very useful to poor and needy workmen. The Bombay Claims Agency specially has done very good work in giving publicity to the Act and securing compensation for poor workmen.
These Agencies, however, represent a particular type of labourers and not the whole class of labourers and it is really necessary that Trade Unions should take up this work as one of their important aims and objects. There is no regular agency for assisting the workmen in Bengal and Madras. In Karachi, there is a Workmen's Compensation Aid Society registered under the Indian Trade Unions Act for aiding the injured workmen, but it does not function effectively.
The majority of the bigger concerns insure their liability for payment of workmen's compensation and some others have their own funds to meet these liabilities. The Millowners' Association, Bombay, has its Millowners' Mutual Insurance Association, It is generally the small employers who do not insure and, when accidents occur, endeavour to avoid their liability. The number of cases where workmen have not been able to secure compensation due to the insolvency of the employers is fairly large. Compulsory insurance has been suggested by some Provincial Governments and most of the big employers' organisations like the Bombay Millowners' Association, the Indian Jute Mills Association and the Indian Engineering Association.
Compulsory insurance, however, can be of two kinds, viz-, company insurance and State insurance. In India, private company insurance has not yet assumed any large proportions. In view of this fact, and also in-view of the universal tendency to prefer State insurance, so as to avoid all possibilities of costly and endless litigation, we fed that any experimentation in the direction of private company insurance on a compulsory basis should be avoided. This issue has been discussed at the Tripartite Labour Conference and the general opinion seems to have been in favour of State insurance. In pursuance of that decision, the Government of India have already under consideration legislation on the lines of State insurance.
Section 10B of the Act requires only such employers, as is required by any law (e. g., Section 30 of the Factories Act) to give notice to any authority of any accident occurring on his premises which results in death, to report to the Commissioner all fatal accidents if they take place on his premises. At present, there is no obligation on the employer to report to the Commissioner non-fatal injuries even when they give rise to claims for compensation. The Commissioner has, therefore, no means of knowing whether claims for compensation in non-fatal accidents have been made or, if made, have been fairly dealt with. Further, he has no power, under the Act, to initiate action suo motu on the basis of any information which may have reached him in respect of such accidents. We agree with the Bihar Labour Enquiry Committee that
all accidents should be immediately reported to the Labour Commissioner followed at an early date by a statement showing the amount of compensation paid for each accident and where the liability is disclaimed a brief statement of reasons in support of it. The Labour Commissioner may then take action if necessary to secure the satisfaction of just claims.
Though most of the big employers have arrangements for rendering free medical assistance to the injured workmen, no such facilities exist in the numerous small concerns in this country. There is also no legislative provision for free medical treatment and for the rehabilitation of the injured workmen. With better medical assistance and facilities, the workman stands to gain as the incapacity is either wholly cured or reduced to a large extent. The employers also stand to gain in as much as the amount of compensation payable by them is considerably reduced. Even if the workman has spent some amount and thereby obtained substantial relief by taking private treatment, the employers often refuse to pay such expenses.
As regards the various industries surveyed by the Committee, it may be stated that though the Act applies to mines, uparchalla workings in mica mines do not come under the Act in view of the proviso to Schedule II (v) though the incidence, of accidents in them appears to be quite considerable. As most of the mica mines are inaccessible, a large number of accidents which occur go unreported. What happens in most cases is that the victim is paid a little money and is asked to stay away until he has recovered completely. In the Iron Ore mines, although companies observe the provisions of the Act, it was noticed that the contractors often paid compensation at a rate lower than that prescribed under the Act. The accidents also are not always reported. As regards manganese mines, though Sandur State has a Workmen's Compensation Act the workers as well as the management were ignorant of it. In the Gold Mines in Mysore State the Mysore Workmen's Compensation Act is properly observed. While under the British Indian Act, half-monthly payments for temporary disablement are payable commencing from the eighth day of accident, in Mysore they are payable from the date of accident, provided the period of disablement exceeds seven days. The Assam Oil Co., treats accident cases generously by making ex gratia payments over and above those prescribed under the Act.
In the glass factories, the commonest accidents are those arising from cuts and burns most of which heal up within the 'waiting period' of 7 days and the employers escape all liability. In some printing presses, it is complained that non-fatal injuries are not reported and that the workers are dismissed to escape liability for the payment of compensation. Though there is the admitted danger of lead-poisoning to which compositors and distributors are exposed, only very few cases of lead-poisoning came to light in our enquiry which suggests that such cases are not recorded and that [he symptoms are very often not diagonised. In the chemical industry some concerns claim that they pay more than what The Act requires them to do. The Swastik Oil Mills in Bombay, for example, pay the first fourteen days' wages as compensation to every injured person, if he is unable to resume his duties within that period. The Imperial Chemical Industries pays the total salary lost due to accident which in many cases amounts to more than the compensation sanctioned under the Act. On the other hand, the workers 111 Alkali Chemical Corporation forfeit their wages for the number of hours they are rendered unfit for work due to gas attacks. Technically, the company is not liable to pay compensation in such cases, while deductions for non-working in such cases, especially when the wages are low, seem to be unfair in spite of the existing provisions of the Act. The working of the Act is not as satisfactory in the Central P.W.D
as it should be, especially in the case of contract labour. Contractors sometimes pay a smaller sum than what is due under the Act and purport to take a clear receipt from the workman, while in some cases it is not paid to all. Besides, most of the workers hail from distant places and Commissioners find it difficult to trace their whereabouts, as they usually migrate to their homes immediately after the occurrence, leaving no address. If there were a general system of maintaining service cards, these difficulties would not arise.
In the seasonal factories such as rice mills and cotton ginning and baling factories, the Act is infructuous in a large measure, due to the seasonal, if not casual, nature of employment; accidents are hushed up, or if that cannot be done, payment is made of a pittance by way of lump sum settlement. Where. however, as in the rice mills in Orissa and cotton ginning and baling factories in the Central Provinces employers have insured their liability for payment of compensation, there is no evasion and managements help workers to recover compensation.