Workers’ lives not worth the bricks they make

On 3rd June 2020, two workers were killed, in a brick kiln, when a chamber wall collapsed, burying them under tonnes of bricks in Tiruvalluvar District on the outskirts of Chennai city. The two workers were women in their early 20s from the Kalahandi District, Orissa. This is one of hundreds of brick kilns that dot the peripheries of Chennai, a metropolis like any other in the country that have an insatiable hunger for consumer goods. This hunger makes them blind to the plight of workers that fuel the manufacturing and construction sectors.

On the same day, eight migrant workers wear singed to death and 50 were injured when a storage tank exploded at Yashvi Rasayn Private Limited’s chemical factory in Dahej, Gujarat. Two villages with close to 5000 inhabitants were evacuated as a precaution against the poisonous and inflammable methanol and xylene chemicals that were in tanks near the storage tank that exploded.

On 2nd June, four contract workers died and several others were seriously injured in a blast at the contracted out open-cast mines at the public sector Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL) in Ramagunden, Telangana. The first reports claim that “the blast took place earlier than expected”.

On May 27th, a massive blowout in an ONGC-Oil India Ltd in Upper Assam sent a spray of crude oil into the air and water, and the leak of natural gas has not been controlled even eight days later. Aside from the damage to the adjoining Dibru Saikhowa national park and the eco-sensitive Maguri Beel wetlands, the damage to fisheries, tea plantations, and forests is incalculable and will have long-term impacts on ecology and wildlife that support the livelihood of rural communities that live there.

Workers as cannon fodder for inhumane and unconscionable supply chains

These workplace accidents are exemplary of chaos that the BJP government has unleashed on the country through the virtual abandoning of workplace health and safety regulation since it has come to government in 2014. Each of these accidents brings to the fore the benefits that accrue to capital due to lax workplace health and safety standards, which come at the unimaginable cost to workers and their families, and the livelihoods they strive to establish.

Playing fast and loose with workers’ safety

Workplace accidents have been aggravated with the unplanned coronavirus lockdown now in its 11th week. While refusing to address the real constraints of the economy the BJP persists with its ideological commitment to merely addressing the supply side. To this end the BJP continues to pander to capital. The BJP-ruled state governments now seek to do away with all labour laws and most of all, provisions for workplace health and safety. The BJP government at the centre seeks to ‘consolidate’ this in its four labour codes. These codes will intensify the attack on workers and make workplaces less safe and more accident prone than they already are.

Under these circumstances the NTUI calls upon

  1. The Government of India and the state governments of Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Telangana to ensure that each of the three above named employers
    • pay compensation up to the value of a lifetime’s earnings to the family of each deceased worker;
    • meet the costs of medical treatment of each of the injured, pay them for their lost earnings during the treatment period, and compensate them in proportion of their reduced capacity to work following the accident;
    • ensure transparent enquiries of all four accidents under the appropriate law as it exists on the union list as on today,
  1. The President of India to deny assent to all ordinances concerning labour rights placed of various state governments
  2. The Government of India to withdraw the labour codes including the Occupational Safety, Healthand Working Conditions Code, 2019

Gautam Mody
General Secretary