National Commission on Labour (1967)||
11.1While some of the facilities listed in the introductory paragraph were provided by employers in townships specially built up for workers and in certain centres of industrial importance, their scale was not so significant as to attract attention. The Rege Committee reported that it was not until the outbreak of the Second World War that the Government of India and the State Governments realised the need for adoption of welfare measures as a means to increase the workers' efficiency and boost their morale. The Coal Mines Labour Welfare Fund Organisation sponsored by the Central Government had just begun its work. The States had taken steps to encourage the starting of cost-price grain shops and cooperative societies in industrial establishments as part of their contribution to the war effort. Besides, three Provincial Governments had organised welfare centres the activities of which are described below
(i) Bombay: Model Welfare Centres were organised for the first time in 1939 at 27 places. The centres were classified according to the range of their activities. Outdoor games were available in all of them. Indoor recreation and educational activities, ordinary and circulating libraries and dispensaries were added on according to the importance of the area where a centre was located. A full-fledged welfare centre provided a nursery school for children, a women's section running literacy, sewing and embroidery classes, suitable games (outdoor and indoor) and a gymnasium for men, and separate arrangements for water taps and shower-baths for men and women; radio programmes and monthly cinema shows also formed a part of its activity.
(ii) United Provinces: Welfare centres of three types, with varying activities, had been set up in 28 places. The facilities available to workers in these centres were similar to those in Bombay. Occasionally, the centres arranged baby shows, music parties and mushairas.
(iii) Bengal; The Government was running 41 welfare centres, besides giving grants to private organisations to look after a part of the labour welfare work. The main activities at the centres were conducting of literacy classes and indoor and outdoor games. A gymnasium was available in some, whereas radio, gramophone records, cinema shows and similar recreational facilities were more common.
11.2. The employers in general looked upon welfare work as fruitless and barren, though some of them indeed had done pioneering work. We record, in brief, the welfare facilities which were available in some selected industries in those days.
(i) Factories: Prior to the medical facilities provided through the Employees' State Insurance Corporation, cement factories, sugar factories, some large tanneries and several units in the textile industry, had their own arrangements for treatment of workers. Some units in the glass industry had arranged with local practitioners for help in case of need. Small size tanneries, bidi works, and printing presses had no arrangements worth the name. For educational facilities, all industrial units looked to local authorities, with the exception of some cement factories, large tanneries, fair-sized sugar mills and textile units located in smaller centres. Adult education also was not much in evidence. Outdoor and indoor games were provided by some units in the textile industry. Cement factories and large-sized tanneries provided a room for indoor games. In other industries, no such facility was available. Because of exigencies of war, cheap grain-shops had been provided in several units of the textile and cement industries and also in some large-sized tanneries, but were not to be found in others. Other activities like cooperative societies and mutual benefit societies were restricted to large units in the textile and cement industries. The general impression formed by the Rege Committee was that the cement industry provided, by far, the best welfare facilities judged by the then prevailing standards.
(ii) Mines: Only a few big mines had hospitals; others had dispensaries where the level of dispensing left much to be desired. In general, the arrangement for medical relief was inadequate. Despite efforts, malaria continued to
take a heavy toll. Arrangements for education of workers' children were meagre; no adult education classes existed. Recreational and cultural activities were sponsored only in some mines. Cheap grain shops had been opened by several employers as a war-time necessity. Workers generally purchased their requirements from bazars or 'hats', which were held in the vicinity of the localities where they stayed, twice or four times a week.
(iii) Plantations: The extent of welfare work in plantations was dependent on their size. Many large plantations had arrangements for looking after the workers' health. There was no provision for education beyond the primary stage, nor was there any demand for it. Such recreational facilities as were there were mostly for the use of the supervisory staff. Even those made a poor showing compared to what was available in the exclusive clubs for selected supervisory staff in many plantation areas, particularly in the North East. Cheap grainshops, however, were established during the war years.
11.3. Responsibility for organising welfare work for mills run by their members was accepted by some employers' organisations; the Indian Jute Mills Association and the Bombay Mill-owners' Association were instances in point. They organised activities in working class localities with the object of providing recreation for the workers. The emphasis was on outdoor games such as volley ball, badminton and wrestling. Dramas and song recitals were arranged on holidays. The Indian Jute Mills Association provided indoor attractions too; classes were conducted during working hours for workers' children; Women's Corners where baby shows were held and milk distributed free to mothers and children were also a part of this activity. +
11.4. The Rege Committee reported on the activities of the Ahmedabad Textile Labour Association (TLA), the railwaymen's unions and the Mazdoor Sabha of Kanpur. The TLA spent a fair share of its income on welfare activities which included day and night schools, a residential boarding house for working class girls, study homes for boys, reading rooms and libraries, physical culture centres, etc. Some railwaymen's unions had organised cooperative societies and set apart various kinds of funds for providing specific assistance such as legal defence, death and retirement benefits, unemployment and sickness benefits, and life insurance.
The Mazdoor Sabha of Kanpur maintained a reading room, a library and also a dispensary for workers. There were a few other unions which carried on incidental welfare activities. The main handicap which prevented the trade unions from taking up this activity was lack of funds.