National Commission on Labour (1967)||
11.17 There has been admittedly an increase in prices of consumer goods over the period under review, and particularly since 1962. The increase has been more marked in the case of food articles. The main cause of discontent among industrial workers in recent years has been the price rise and the inability of the employer or Government to provide adequate relief against it. The ladian Labour Conference recommended in 1962 the setting up of consumer cooperative stores in all industrial establishments employing 300 or more workers. Under the scheme which is voluntary, assistance from employers was to be in the form of (i) participation in share capital, (ii) provision of loan for working capital and (iii) grant of managerial subsidy. Apart from these, the employers undertook to arrange accommodation for stores, free of rent or at nominal rent, and give other facilities such as free supply of furniture and electricity. Since adequate progress has not been made in the setting up such shops. Government is intending to enact suitable legislation for the purpose.
11.18 Since the days when the Rege Committee expressed dissatisfaction about the range and content of labour welfare, some components of welfare have been written into the law of the land; for others, persuasion has worked; and in case of still others, a combination of various factors has brought benefits to workers. A large area, however, is yet to be covered. There are two distinct views on workers' welfare: (i) Welfare is something which is personal to workers; the State should not have anything to do with it. Workers should be allowed to
bargain collectively with the employer for such facilities as they need. (ii) This country has not reached a stage where welfare could be left entirely as a matter to be settled between an employer and his worker. We apprehend that if even the minimum facilities are left to collective bargaining, standards are not likely to be uniform, nor will the facilities reach less organised workers. We do not yet find ourselves in a position where society can take on some of these activities as in several developed countries. We, therefore, suggest (i) that facilities which have been written into the law should be implemented so as to conform to the spirit of the legislation and (ii) that Government should, if the need arises, bring in new legislation consistent with the general approach that persuasion is always the best policy. It is in this light that the recommendations which we make for different sectors of employment should be viewed.
11.19 Factories.—Compulsions of balanced regional development require that industries should be dispersed over a wide area. While several big factories have made arrangements for medical treatment for their workers, very little of it is seen in smaller units. In areas where small units are concentrated, the employers should come together to provide such treatment jointly. With the extension in the coverage of the E.S.I.S., however, this will be but a passing phase. We, therefore, do not envisage legislation for the purpose. Periodic medical examination of workers to facilitate timely diagnosis and treatment of occupational diseases, should be a charge on the employer. For non-occupational diseases, the Employees' State Insurance Corporation should assume the responsibility. We do not visualise the setting up of convalescent homes, sanatoria and health resorts and the like for workers in the near future nor is there any demand for them at present from the workers. But these must remain as goals to be achieved, albeit distant. Even where factories are located in out of the way places, primary education is the responsibility of the State as a part of Government policy. To encourage employers to open schools in such areas, they should be exempted from the levy of the education cess or, where it is collected, given rebate to the extent that schools run by them reach the prescribed standard. Apart from the facilities available under the merit scholarship schemes, employers should, either after consulting unions or with the active help of unions, undertake to provide scholarships to deserving children of their workers. Since schools are meant primarily for the benefit of workers' children, unions should, participate actively in their efficient running. Welfare centres run by the Government in predominantly working class areas should arrange for some schooling. The standards in these schools should be improved and a number of new schools set up. We feel that recreational facilities should be left to evolve in the natural course. There has been sufficient progress in this matter to hope that workers will press for satisfaction of their legitimate needs and, to the extent of their capacity, employers will accept the burdens agreed to between them and their workers' representatives.
11.20 Mines.—The Coal Mines Labour Welfare Fund was set up two decades ago. It has been utilised well in spite of administrative and financial difficulties which are unavoidable in all welfare measures of this type. Such funds have been set up in mica and iron ore mines and proposals in respect of manganese and limestone and dolomite mines are under consideration of the Government. Facilities offered by these Funds are available only to those workers who are engaged in extracting the minerals for which the funds are constituted. During the course of our observation visits we were told that though there would be limits to improving working conditions in mines, living conditions offered much scope for improvement. In this respect the Funds could achieve a fair measure of success through the active cooperation of the workers themselves and their unions. We believe that the responsibility for seeking this cooperation will rest with the Fund. To the extent the trade union response is inadequate, the utility of the work of the Fund would be open to question.
11.21 The Chief Medical Superintendent of the Central Hospital for Mines at Asansol drew our attention to the pitiable condition of miners, especially women, many of whom suffered from lung diseases. The prevalence of the disease could be checked if arrangements for proper and regular examination are made. With its present staff and resources, the hospital could not take on this work; some other arrangements to supplement their effort would be required. It has been reported to us that the basic requirement was a periodic medical check-up of the workers which may not be feasible within the financial and other resources available. We consider that this is a short-term view. It the check-up reveals some ailment this will be both to the good of the beneficiary and of the Fund. Periodic medical check-up, we feel, should be a part of the Funds' activity. We recommend that the essential apparatus
for detecting and curing the disease should be made available through more liberal allotment of funds.
11.22 The CLW has recommended: A General Mine Labour Welfare Fund be created which will undertake welfare activities in respect of workers in all mines. The medical facilities arranged by this new Fund should include maternity, ante-natal and postnatal care, child welfare, family planning, prevention and control of diseases prevalent in or associated with the type of working situation and living environments as also emergency medical care. Educational facilities provided by the Fund should be organised on the same lines as in the case of the Coal Mines Labour Welfare Fund. Since primary education is free in almost all the States, the Fund should be given grants by the State Governments wherever it arranges primary education. The type of recreational facilities including the arrangement for excursion tours, which are provided by the Coal Mines Labour Welfare Fund, should be arranged by the new fund. Finances for the General Mine Labour Welfare Fund will be arranged on the same lines on which finances are found for the existing statutory welfare funds, that is, by the levy of a cess.
11.23 While we generally agree with these recommendations, our preference would be to tackle each mineral separately. This is because there are certain minerals in which the setting up of funds is already under examination of Government. The present recommendation should not delay the setting up of these funds. Where a cess is collected, it is the responsibility of the Government to ensure that it is utilised only for labour welfare work. We would also suggest that to avoid duplication of effort in the same area, all the Funds so created should have an arrangement which permits pooling of facilities.
11.24 It has been brought to our notice that mine owners practise discrimination as between persons recruited for work from distress areas through the Gorakpur Labour Organisation (GLO) and those recruited locally. This discrimination is allegedly of two types. Workers recruited through the GLO are treated differently from others engaged locally in matters such as hostels, food and right to organise. They are given some facilities at the place of work and at the time of termination of their short-term contract. These are denied to others. We disapprove of any discrimination based on the source of recruitment. Once in employment, all workers should be treated on par. No distinction of any sort or control should be exercised and they should become part and parcel of the labour force as soon as they join the mine. Hostel facilities, where made available, should be open to all workers, not only in principle but also in practice, and so should be the right to organise. The system of repatriation after eleven months of service should be abolished and they should be in a position to return to the employer who gives them leave, as a matter of right. Such leave, within limits to be prescribed, should not be construed as break in service.
11.25 Plantations.—We have already referred to the difference in the standard of medical facilities available on plantations. Where the standards are poor, all round improvement is needed in the provision of medical personnel, para-medical personnel and the standard of hospital/dispensary arrangements1. Absence of adequate arrangements for domiciliary or specialised treatment is reported in almost all estates. This assumes special importance in the State of West Bengal and Assam where the incidence of T.B. and leprosy is reported to be high amongst plantation workers and their families. In order to ensure that hospitals are properly equipped and disparity in the standards of medical facilities available to workers is reduced, the State Governments should prescribe a list of medicines, drugs and equipment for the hospitals. Suitable arrangements for detection and treatment of occupational diseases is another requirement which needs to be met. Priority should also be given to family planning programmes. Provision of educational facilities is a statutory obligation on the employers. The State Governments should ensure that these are provided according to the scale. The commodity boards should also evolve schemes for the provision of relief to workers in cases of distress and prolonged illness. The provision of minimum recreational facilities should be undertaken by the Statutory Labour Welfare Boards, the creation of which has been recommended by us.2
1We noticed in a small area in Assam four well-equipped hospitals, two belonging to public sector units and the other two to the private sector. A fifth one is being planned by the State Government for its industrial employees. With some understanding on the part of all concerned, this multiplication of effort, which may lead to under-utilisation of medical personnel, could have been avoided.
2 See Para 11-27
Ports and Dockyards
11.26 A substantial percentage of the total labour force in ports consists of casual and contract workers who are not eligible for the welfare measures undertaken by the Port Trusts Employees' Welfare Fund. There is need to extend the facilities to such workers also. Where schooling is not available within a convenient distance of the housing colony, port authorities or the concerned Dock Labour Board should open schools or arrange adequate transport for workers' children. There is also need for evolving a scheme for distress relief and assistance in the event of death, injury, sickness, etc.