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Analysing labour on a warming planet

Why is it in the news?

  • The International Labour Organisation (ILO)’s latest report ‘Ensuring safety and health at work in a changing climate’ highlights the urgent need to climate-proof labor and adapt to the changing work environment amidst global warming.
  • With over a third of the world’s population exposed to excessive heat annually, resulting in nearly 23 million work-related injuries, existing Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) protections and laws are deemed insufficient.
  • The ILO calls for a comprehensive overhaul of these regulations to effectively address the evolving risks from climate change and mitigate worker mortality and morbidity.

More about the news

 Emerging hazards

  • The ILO identifies six key impacts of climate change, including excessive heat, solar ultraviolet radiation, extreme weather events, workplace air pollution, vector-borne diseases, and exposure to agrochemicals.
  • Workers in various sectors, such as agriculture, construction, conservancy, transport, and tourism, are most affected by these climate hazards.
  • The rise in gig employment, one of India’s fastest-growing worker communities, exacerbates heat susceptibility, with gig workers like ride-hailing drivers, delivery personnel, home repair workers, and courier service employees particularly vulnerable.

Sectors affected

Agriculture Sector:

  • Agriculture is highly susceptible to heat hazards globally, particularly in the developing world.
  • Around 45.76% of the total Indian workforce was engaged in agriculture and allied sectors in 2022-23, a reduction from three decades ago.
  • Nearly 90% of Indian farmers own less than two hectares of land and face financial challenges, with many earning low incomes and being indebted.
  • Lack of access to modern technology and research in agriculture limits farmers’ ability to adapt to a warming climate.
  • Communities are already shifting work timings to early mornings and evenings as a coping mechanism against heat.
  • Recommendations from the International Labour Organization (ILO) include providing more hydration points, breaks, and rest shelters in agricultural settings.

Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Sector:

  • India’s MSME sector employs about 21% of the country’s workforce, with over 123 million workers in approximately 64 million enterprises.
  • Despite its significant contribution to exports and manufacturing output, the sector is overwhelmingly informal, leading to minimal oversight of worker conditions by state Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) departments.
  • This lack of oversight leaves MSME workers highly vulnerable to heat hazards.

Building and Construction Sector:

  • The building and construction segment employs about 70 million workers, nearly 12% of India’s workforce.
  • Construction is heavily concentrated in urban areas, exposing workers to the urban heat island effect.
  • Workers in this sector are prone to physical injuries and health hazards from air pollution, with several Indian cities being among the most polluted globally.

Laws addressing workplace safety

  • More than 13 central laws in India regulate working conditions across various sectors, including the Factories Act, 1948; the Workmen Compensation Act, 1923; the Building and Other Construction Workers Act, 1996; the Plantations Labour Act, 1951; the Mines Act, 1952; and the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, 1979.
  • These laws were consolidated and amended in September 2020 under the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020 (OSH Code, 2020).
  • However, several unions criticize the OSH Code for potentially watering down safety and inspection standards.
  • The Union government has not officially notified the enforcement of the OSH Code, leading to reliance on older laws by unions and the judiciary for seeking redress and accountability.
  • The Indian Factories Act defines a factory as an enterprise with “10 or more” workers. However, the number of registered factories under this law is less than a quarter of a million, indicating that the majority of India’s 64 million MSMEs are not registered and thus not subject to governmental inspections.
  • According to the Labour Bureau’s 2020 report, there was a 2.48% increase in the number of registered factories from the beginning to the end of the year 2020.
  • The lack of registration of the majority of MSMEs under the Factories Act means that they are outside the purview of governmental inspections, potentially impacting workplace safety and compliance.

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