South AFrica 1The WFTU participated in the 4th National Congress of CEPPWAWU on 31st August – 4th September in South Africa represented by cde. Swadesh Dev Roye, member of the WFTU Secretariat and President of TUI Energy. On the framework of the Congress, the WFTU held a seminar on Health and Safety. Below you can read the keynote speech of comrade Dev Roye at the WFTU Seminar:
A BRIEF INTRODUCTION ON OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH
The 16th World Trade Union Congress of World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) held on 6 – 10 April 2011 at Athens, Greece, took up the fundamental human issue of Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) with focus. In fact as a pre-congress project, a study on the issue was commissioned and in the process a detailed exercise was undertaken and a draft report was circulated to all the affiliates and friends of WFTU months before the 16th Congress. Ultimately with input received, an analytically rich document was presented to the Congress participants. The Secretariat of WFTU has decided to campaign the issue of OSH at sectoral, national, regional and international levels.
South Africa 1Occupational Safety and Health is a fundamental human right of workers. The right to safety and health at work is enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 which states, “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work …” Because occupational hazards arise at the workplace, it is the responsibility of employers to ensure that the working environment is safe and healthy. The employers must prevent and protect workers from occupational risks.
OSH IN THE ERA OF NEO -LIBERALISM
Alarming increase in number of accidents with rise in fatalities has become a regular common phenomenon in the workplaces all over the world demonstrating criminal negligence on the part of capitalist class on the fundamental human question of basic safety norms. According to the best available estimates, every year 2.3 million men and women including child labour as well lose their lives through workplace accidents, 337 million workers suffer from non-fatal accidents, 270 million workers suffer occupational accidents and 160 million become victims of occupational diseases. These are, of course conservative estimates. Moreover, exposure to chemicals and various biological, psychosocial and ergonomic working environments contribute in a big way in occupational diseases. Huge number workers become victims of the killer disease of CANCER due to exposure to benzene, asbestos, chromium, nitrosamines, ionizing, radiation etc.
Virtual abandonment of inspection of factories and other workplaces by the concerned Government agencies of nation states, particularly in the developing and under developed economies has been rather facilitating the employers’ class to ignore all statutory obligations relating to occupational safety and health at workplaces. Labour inspection plays a significant role in the application of standards, systems and programme on occupational safety and health […] It is an indispensable component of a national occupational safety and health system” (ILO-World Day for Safety and Health at Work – 2007)
Most of the workplace accidents are the results of gross negligence concerning basic preventive safety measures and unsafe work practices imposed on the workers by employers’ class with the criminal commercial motive of extracting economy in cost by adopting unsafe operational process for enhancing production, productivity and limitless profit.
Informalisation, Casualisation and Contractualisation of employment in the era neo-liberalism has very seriously deteriorated work place safety and health situation. According to ILO from OSH point of view, employment can be identified into three categories: (a) workers in precarious employment (b) informal employment and (c) small and medium enterprises (SMEs). The workers in these employments are economically most vulnerable and forced to work with extreme risk embracing safety and health hazards.
It is obvious that mostly these categories of workers are prey to casualities, injuries and loss of limbs etc, Again such workers also lose heavily in the matter of compensation and rehabilitation. Moreover since most of the employers do not maintain proper employment records as per law of the land and after any fatality or injury at workplace, workers particularly those on contract or casual are deprived of compensation and proper rehabilitation. Under the neo-liberal economic order, the situation has aggravated further.
ILO has observed that small workplaces have a worse safety record than large ones. Rate of fatal and serious injuries in small workplaces is twice that in large workplaces. Further, rate of accidents amongst contract workers is on an average twice that of permanent workers. Employers seem to believe that by subcontracting work they subcontract their safety responsibility as well.
ILO STANDARS ON OSH
The ILO has adopted more than 40 standards (both Conventions and Recommendations) and also over 40 Codes of Practice specifically dealing with Occupational Safety and Health (OSH). In addition to the OSH Convention, 1981 (No. 155) and the Occupational Health Services Convention, 1985 (No. 161) that cover core concepts of occupational safety and health, there are Conventions on protection against specific risks as well as Conventions on health and safety in particular branches of economic activities. Broadly they deal with industry and services like: Radiation Convention, Injury Benefits Convention, Labour Inspection in Agriculture Convention, Occupational Cancer Convention, Dock Workers Convention, Health Services Convention, Asbestos Convention, Safety and Health in Construction Convention, Chemical Convention, Safety and Health in Mines Convention, Safety and Health in Agriculture Convention.
The ILO has adopted the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention 187 (2006) requiring the member states to promote continuous improvement of occupational safety and health in order to prevent occupational injuries, diseases and deaths, The three tools to achieve these goals are: (i) A National Policy: To serve to promote a safe and healthy working environment (ii) A National System: To consist of institutional mechanism, such as laws, regulations and responsible authorities. (iii) A National Programme: To develop predetermined time frame, priorities and crucially some means of assessing progress. (ibid)
FROM THE DOCUMENT OF 16th CONRESS OF WFTU
Better Safety and Health in work life means to do away with hazardous working condition and introduce and protect healthy and conducive working condition. OSH is compromised by the employers’ class in order to reap incremental profit. Therefore OSH is deeply rooted with social conflict between labour and capital. It is, therefore, imperative that desired degree of safe and healthy work place will have to be achieved through bitter class struggles. OSH is not considered by employers’ class as tool for production and productivity and not a question of safe and sound human society and fundamental human right. To the capitalist class, the inhuman path of class exploitation is primary and OSH is secondary.
OSH is neither concern of individual worker’s problem nor responsibility of individual worker. It is not only related to workers and work places but rooted with the social system based on exploitation of one class of huge majority of the population by another class of brute minority class of people. Thus occupational disease, the occupational accident and the premature deterioration of the workers’ health reflect this exploitation but also demonstrate cruel utilization of human skills and capabilities for production, productivity and profitability.
Technological innovation directed to reduce workforce, increase workload and enhance profit is always priority to capitalist class. But when it comes to the question of replacement of worn-out machineries in order to address safety hazards, the employers’ class are always adopts negative attitude. Same approach is deployed in case of introduction of new technology and training to the workers. Uncontrolled use of pesticides and toxic substances in agriculture. Safety aspects are grossly neglected without bothering for fatal accidents in construction work, in mines and quarries, fishing industry, transport industry are glaring examples. The employment of women and children in violation of statutory OSH and civilized social norms is very common phenomenon. Thus women and child labour suffer from multi-prong onslaught in work life, social life and family life. Similar is the situation for aged workers and migrant workers.
LONG TERM AND SHORT PERSPECTIVE
It is a world-wide phenomenal experience that adoption of ILO standards does not guarantee automatic ratification by the Governments of the member states. At the same time ratification and enactment of statutes are no guarantee for implementation of the provisions and automatic achievement of high standard in OSH. The need for conducting massive campaign and huge mobilization of workers on the question of OSH is most essential.
However, struggles for OSH must not be looked upon in isolation from the struggles for social change. Class exploitation based production system cannot provide required standard of OSH to the workers. Because, to the capitalist class profit is the last word, even at the coat of safety and health of workers. A new social system with new production relations with new class configuration with humanitarian motto to replace profit motto is pre-condition for complete safe and healthy in work- life.
However, it is very important to note that while working for long term political solution, we must prioritise urgent issues as immediate achievable demands on occupational safety and health.
Swadesh Dev Roye
Member, Secretariat of WFTU
President, Trade Unions International (Energy)