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'Recognize polyacrylate and musculoskeletal, prevalent in chemical and auto units, as occupational diseases'

A polyacrylate victim
By Our Representative
In a sharp demand, the People’s Research and Training Centre (PTRC), the Vadodara-based NGO working on occupational health issues, wants the Government of India and Government of Gujarat to come up with an amendment in schedule III of the Employees’ Compensation Act, in order to include polyacrylate and musculoskeletal in the list of occupational diseases. In separate letters to the Gujarat labour minister and director-general, ESI Corporation, Jagdish Patel, who heads PTRC, has said that while polyacrylate is a serious lung disease rampant among Gujarat’s pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry, musculoskeletal is a debilitating injury to millions of workers in a wide cross-section of occupations, against which workers of a state-based car manufacturing company represented before the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
In a statement issued in the wake of the demand, the PTRC said, “Nearly 13 lakh workers work in more than 33,000 industrial units operating in Gujarat. Then, there are a large number of unorganized workers, who work in different types of hazardous jobs, including physically lifting weight, maintenance repair, mining, running heavy machinery, and so on. Hazardous jobs galore even in service industry, including in hotels, restaurants and hospitals. Work in these units leads to different types of diseases which come under musculoskeletal, in which tissues are damaged with the wear and tear of daily activities.”
He recalls, “In March 2011, General Motors workers went on strike and their main complaint was they suffered from back pain. They complained to the NHRC for this. In UK, 11 lakh workers suffer from musculoskeletal every year. In the US, such patients form 40 per cent of the workers, or around five lakh. In India, too, this is a common form of disease. In the 2010 International Labour Organisation (ILO) list, it finds its place as an occupational disease.”
Coming to polyacrylate, Patel underlines, “last year, in Mehsana district’s Kadi town, several chemical units exposed workers with polyacrylic acid, leading to serious lung diseases. Among those who died as a result included Alka Thakore, Nainaben Mistry, Nilam Rathod, Vipul Darji and Bhavesh Patel. Gujarat High Court suo motu took notice of it, and the units had to make necessary technology changes.” However, he regrets, “As polyacrylate is not in the list of occupational diseases, the workers failed to get any compensation.”
Patel says, he had earlier written to the state labour minister and the director-general, ESI Corporation, about this, yet there is “no response”. “Decent work – work with dignity and safety is being promoted by the International Labor Organization. Safer and healthier workplace is one of the important human rights for working population. The Indian state is striving to provide legal protection for safety and health for millions of workers. Still we have not been able to provide legal protection for protection of health and safety at work for millions of workers in organized and unorganized sectors”, the statement adds.
Pointing out that “millions of workers either die or get disabled in accidents or occupational disease each year even as they contribute to the GDP of our country”, Patel says, “We badly need to review labour laws… The Employees Compensation Act is one important piece of law to offer social justice for injury, disability or death occurring as a result of accidental injury occurring in course and out of employment.”
He adds, “Chemicals are important part of modern industry. Thousands of chemicals are handled by workers at work. Chemicals pollute the workplace exposing the workers to the hazards. Over a period time, depending up on the toxicity, concentration and period of exposure, exposed workers get affected. Schedule III of The Employees Compensation Act lists the diseases for which compensation can be claimed. Section 3 of the Act empowers the state governments to amend the list.”
Asking the state government the director-general, ESI Corporation to “consider the representation and initiate steps to amend the schedule”, Patel says, “The best way to amend the list is to accept ILO list of occupational diseases amended in 2010, instead of going in for piecemeal changes. If this cannot be done, at least these two diseases should be included in the list urgently. The Government of India has passed policy for Occupational Safety and Health and the government has responsibility to enforce the same. By amending, ESIC will offer one more avenue for social justice to the millions of suffering workers.”

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