Monday, March 10, 2014

NIOH, Ahmedabad, "not competent" to judge if workers suffering from occupational disease be compensated

By Our Representative
Strongly responding to Gujarat government’s decision not to accede to its demand for including two important occupational diseases in the list of those that can invite compensation under the employees’ compensation Act, Vadodara-based NGO People’s Training and Research Centre (PTRC) has protested against the manner in which the decision was taken. 
In a letter to Gujarat’s labour secretary, PTRC director Jagdish Patel has especially found it strange that the matter of paying compensation -- to those suffering from musculoskeletal diseases (MSD) and the diseases caused due to exposure to polyacrylate – was referred to the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad. “NIOH carries out scientific research in occupational health. It does not work on social impact of occupational diseases”, Patel has asserted.
In its two-liner, Patel was informed by the Gujarat government a few days back that the director, industrial safety and health, had taken the opinion of the NIOH, Ahmedabad, which “refused to recommend” on the matter. Polyacrylate is found several of applications of Gujarat’s pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry, leading to serious lung diseases, which are caused on exposure to polyacrylate. 
As for MSD, it is caused to different types of workers, ranging from computer operators in printing industry, construction workers, agriculture workers, workers in manufacturing, drivers, mine workers and others, who become prey to spondylitis and other disabilities. Workers of General Motors, Halol, went on strike in 2010 against refusal of the company to give compensation to those suffering from MSD.
Patel’s response to the labour secretary says, “I was pained to go through the content of your letter. Your department sought opinion of NIOH. NIOH is an institute which carries out scientific research in occupational health. It does not work on the aspect of social impact of occupational diseases. It does not employ any social scientists, qualified social workers or lawyers. Our representation was purely legal. We strongly feel that seeking NIOH opinion on the subject was totally misplaced as NIOH is not competent to offer any advice on socio-legal aspects of occupational health.”
Pointing out that it would have been better had the Gujarat government had invited his team in the PTRC to discuss out the issue across the table instead of brushing aside the demand by sending a two-line letter, Patel has called the NIOH stand as “shocking”. Pointing out that the NIOH is a “premier institute working on occupational health and, based on its research, it should keep on advising governments on the state of occupational health in the country and the diseases faced by the working population”, Patel says, his NGO will now have to take up the matter “separately with NIOH, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Union ministries of health and labour.”
Patel says, “It would have been good had the department sought opinion from multiple agencies to include individuals and institutions. State has a labour institute called Mahatma Gandhi Labour Institute (MGLI). Faculties associated with MGLI may have been able to offer their opinion. Directorate General, Factory Advice and Labour Institutes (DGFASLI) Mumbai, retired High Court judges, compensation commissioners, social scientists, trade unionists, social workers, labour NGOs, public health experts, and economists could have been contacted to give their opinion.”
Calling occupational health as “the most neglected aspects of public health”, Patel says, “In spite of legal provisions, workers claiming compensation for various occupational diseases are rare due to unfriendly social environment. Workers are scared of management wrath, they have no knowledge of their rights, they do not trust the system will offer them justice, doctors do not write diagnosis on paper, trade unions have not given enough importance to occupation health – such is the situation". 
He adds, "As a result, millions of workers each year are pushed out of the labour market due to disability. This weakens our economy and impacts the GDP. Compensation would encourage industry to improve situation at work, on one hand, and give social justice to the sufferers, on the other.”
Praising Gujarat’s “industrial peace” which has “contributed a lot in industrial progress”, Patel believes, “Gujarat has been a welfare state, and we have had a healthy mahajani tradition, where influential classes of society, including the government, consider workers’ welfare as their prime responsibility. The decision is not befitting this tradition. In spite of unfavourable opinion by the NIOH, the state could have gone ahead with its own decision.” 
Wondering how the government could deprive our workers from their due legal rights, Patel wants the labour secretary to put on hold “the decision in larger interest of society in general and working population in particular”. I look forward to your intimation when we can meet to discuss the issue.

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