National Commission on Labour (1967)||
29.62 Our country has an enormous potential for development of the tanneries and leather goods industry. The annual production of hides exceeds 20 million and that of skins is over double the number. Mechanical processing is resorted to only for about 12% the total of hides and skins. For the rest, it all small-scale tanning in the vicinity Calcutta, Kanpur and Madras and near other large towns, while cottage tanning is resorted to in villages. We propose to cover only small scale tanneries in this section.
29.63 Working conditions in these tanneries appear to have changed for the worse. One has only to see the areas in any large or small town where tanning of hides and skins is undertaken in small establishments, to understand how working conditions could not have been worse. It is true that the industry itself is such that workers engaged in it do expect a measure of unpleasant work in unhygienic surroundings. The place of work and place of stay are not separate—particularly in small tanneries. It is possible that in many such units no labour-management relationship exists, work being on a family basis. But even in such units, lack of arrangements for proper disposal of effluents in the tanning process can be a cause for public concern. Problems to be tackled in this section of industry are many and varied, including resistance from the side of workers.
29.64 Most of the ills which are associated with small industries are also present in tanning units or in units concerned with manufacture of leather goods. In this industry, again, the business is organised on traditional lines: raw material is distributed to workers who take it to their homes and work it into finished products. The agent of the entrepreneur collects the goods and markets them at a reasonable profit. He prefers getting work done in this manner, since he saves on establishment and other charges, and does not have to be answerable to the labour inspectorate. Workers too find the system convenient, because they can adjust their pace of work and do not have to submit to factory discipline. Another system of getting work is even more exploitative. Under it, the arrangement is for the employer to engage eight or ten group-leaders, each of whom in turn seeks the assistance of two or three semi-skilled or unskilled workers to complete the task allotted to him. The names of such workers and their leaders are entered in the muster-roll of the employer; so are papers signed by individual workers that payment should be made to the group-leader. The group leader in turn pays his assistants at rates decided between them. Thus the group leader, though himself a worker, acts as a middle-man; the disparity in earnings of a leader and his assistant is as much as 4:1 for identical work. In some places cooperatives have been tried out, but here again, the benefit has reached the organisers of the cooperative rather than the workers who seem to be in the same plight as their colleagues who work for small employers in other industries. Malpractices of short payments, unwarranted deductions, and even extra deductions for absenteeism add to the other difficulties which these workers face.
29.65 Over the last twenty years, the Central Leather Research Institute, Madras and Small-Industries Service Institutes have put in appreciable efforts to popularise scientific methods of tanning. The bulk of the units engaged in this work, however, cannot afford even minor improvements; resistance to change is seen not only in the method of work, but also in the general attitude of the communities which are engaged in the industry, even where finance is no difficulty. Though education is reaching them, many among the workers do not know any other trade. They have shown no inclination either to acquire a different skill. The sentimental attachment to the work traditionally handed out to them from generation to generation is overwhelming. As a step towards making the change acceptable, the Government of Tamil Nadu has set up the Madhavaram Industrial Estate in the area where tanning is a household industry. Such estates require to be multiplied if the unhealthy surroundings in which workers live and work are to be improved.