Conditions of shipbreaking workers in India remain appalling

Health and Safety, Ship Demolitions — By on December 10, 2019 at 5:05 PM

Conditions of shipbreaking workers in India remain appalling

Local authorities fail in enforcing national labour laws

Today, The Indian Express reveals that conditions for the shipbreaking workers at the beach of Alang, India, have not improved. Based on the findings of recent independent research carried out by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai, the article highlights the lack of protective equipment, inadequate health facilities and far too long working hours. Hundreds of vessels are taken apart with little or no regard to safety, the newspaper says. 

The TISS report, a follow-up of Associate Professor Dr Geetanjoy Sahu’s first report published in 2014, reveals continued serious breaches and lack of effective enforcement of national laws aimed at the protection of workers’ rights. Data collected by the Platform and Toxic Watch Alliance shows that there have been more than 500 fatal accidents since 1983 at the Alang shipbreaking yards – and at least 48 since 2014. According to the TISS report, more than half of the total workers interviewed said they had been injured at their workplace in the past one year. 39 per cent of these workers informed that they had not received any medical support; 52 per cent did not get any wage or compensation when they were on leave due to injury; and, 18 per cent continued to work despite their injuries as they were worried to loose wages.

The lack of proper medical facilities in Alang is of particular concern. There are only three simple health clinics, two of them run by the Red Cross Society and a small one run by a private doctor. Neither have necessary equipment to treat major and life threatening injuries. It is, furthermore, worrying that the workers who participate in the trade union activities stated that they prefer confining their role to address basic issues such as sanitation and water supply, rather than demand a halt to hazardous working conditions and adequate medical treatment and accident compensation. An alarming 37 per cent of the interviewed workers do not even want to participate in the trade union activities as they feel it might threaten their employment.

The lack of a database created or maintained by the district authorities about the number of workers in the ship breaking yards renders it difficult to ensure the welfare of the workforce in Alang. Whilst most are migrant workers, mainly from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the TISS report reveals that they do not receive housing facilities even though they are entitled to under the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act 1979. Instead, they continue to live in and around the yards in rented shanty dwellings without adequate facilities for potable water, sanitation and electricity.

There is no lack of laws in India to protect both workers and the environment from the many harms caused by the unsustainable practices in Alang. It is high time that the Indian government enforces these laws to ensure that the industry embraces truly safe and green recycling practices off the beach”, says Ingvild Jenssen, Director of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform.

India’s recently approved Ship Recycling Bill (2019) and ratification of the International Maritime Organisation’s Hong Kong Convention risk undermining existing laws and fail in establishing an effective framework for improving industry practices. The standards set by the Hong Kong Convention are weak, and have also been strongly criticised for simply rubberstamping beaching, a method which is banned in major ship owning countries.

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