By Our Representative
The labour and employment department, Government of Gujarat, in a letter to Vadodara-based NGO People’s Training and Research Centre (PTRC), has refused to give in the demand that musculoskeletal diseases (MSD) and the diseases caused due to exposure to polyacrylate should be considered occupational diseases. Gujarat’s premier occupation health NGO, PTRC had demanded that the schedule III of the Employees’ Compensation Act, should be amended to include these diseases in the list for which workers can demand compensation.
In its two-sentence letter to PTRC, the state government has stated that the director, industrial safety and health, had taken the opinion of the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad, which has refused to recommend these as occupational diseases.
While polyacrylate is found several of applications of Gujarat’s pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry, leading to serious lung diseases are caused on exposure to polyacrylate”. As for MSD, it is caused by 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..
In January 2012, PTRC represented to the Government of Gujarat to amend schedule III of the Act, which empowers the empowers the state government to make necessary changes in the list of occupational disease in schedule III, which lists diseases for which compensation may be claimed.
In a letter to the state labour minister, Jagdish Patel of the PTRC had said, since Gujarat is one of the most industrialized states, “safer and healthier workplace” should be one of the important prerequisites for its working population. It suggested that the state has so far failed to provide “legal protection for protection of health and safety at work for millions of workers in organized and unorganized sectors.”
“Millions of workers either die or get disabled in accidents or occupational disease each year even as they contribute to the gross domestic product (GDP) of our country. We badly need to review labour laws”, Patel said, adding, “Chemicals are important part of modern industry. Thousands of chemicals are handled by workers at work”.
He said, “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. The Act empowers the state governments to amend the list.”
Asking him to move to urgently “amend the list by adding two diseases to Part B of the list — diseases occurring due to exposure to the dust in manufacturing polyacrylate and MSD”, the letter says, “polyacrylate is manufactured in Gujarat and finds wide application in pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry.”
It points out, “Serious lung diseases are caused on exposure to polyacrylate”. It adds, “Several workers have fallen prey to it and have died within a short duration after exposure. The Gujarat High Court has filed a suo-moto PIL in this regard.(PIL 86 of 2011).”
Referring to the strike in General Motors plant in Halol in Gujarat in 2010, the letter says, as far as MSD are concerned, these have been “debated for since long and is a major cause of debilitating injury to millions of workers in a wide cross-section of occupations. Some time back, workers of an automobile unit in Gujarat went on strike and they represented before the National Human Rights Commission and the Gujarat High Court.”
Patel said, “Large numbers of workers cutting across wide variety of occupations suffer from musculoskeletal diseases due to work conditions. Computer operators in printing industry, construction workers, agriculture workers, workers in manufacturing, drivers, mine workers and others are exposed to vibrations or repetitive movements or awkward work positions or poor ergonomic situation at work can lead to diseases of fingers and wrist, back, shoulders, spinal cord, etc.”
He adds, “These diseases are known as spondilitis, tenocynovitis, lumbago etc. and are all musculoskeletal diseases. As a result of the diseases, workers need to go for expensive treatment, leave from job, decreased income. If the damage leads to permanent disability one has to leave the job and may not get alternate opportunity to earn livelihood. This is a serious issue which now need to be resolved when India claim to be a developed and strong country and Gujarat claim to be vibrant.”