Instead of wasting time and energy on motivated 'networking' and acting as conference and seminar warriors, trade unions especially of left and socialist parties who have the mandate to struggle for occupational health rights ought to work for providing relief to some 30 lakh workers formally employed in the formal economy face potential exposure to silica dust and for some 85 lakh more work in construction and many more in the informal economy with exposure to silica dust. Such efforts are needed especially in hazardous industries like mining, asbestos and ship breaking.
The NGOisation of occupational heath rights campaign is simply an exercise in tokenism and symbolism devoid of substance. Myopia of such unethical exercises becomes manifest when one witnesses how they get carried away by Australian announcement for efforts global efforts to ban asbestos when in the same breath it promoted sale of Uranium.
On December 4, 2011, the Australian Labor Party of Prime Minister Julia Gillard decided to end the ban on uranium sales to India. Australia's decision to export to India is firmly in place. On the same day Labor’s foreign affairs platform to place Australia at the lead of international action for a global treaty to ban the use and trade in asbestos. The amendment commits Australia to hosting an international conference for the Global Alliance against Asbestos Hazard. As recently as June 2012 Australia's Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson has confirmed that uranium sale is on.
No European leader can take a moral high ground to preach Asians about occupational health justice as long as Eastern Europe continues to use asbestos despite ban in Europe. United States Geological Survey data reveals that 22% of asbestos sales went to Eastern Europe.
The rising cases of asbestos related diseases in world's top six asbestos consuming countries China, India, Russia, Indonesia, Uzbekistan and Thailand along with the consumption in Eastern Europe is a matter of gnawing concern. It is heartening that Thailand is likely to ban asbestos this year. While India has announced that it is planning to ban it, rise in its consumption and setting up of new factories is highly inconsistent with its plan.
How can employment of prison labour for asbestos and other hazardous industries in China be condoned? Silence of organisations indulging in tokenism in these matters reveals their true nature.
NHRC's action on Endosulfan, asbestos related diseases and silicosis reveals that there is no short cut to political and institutional intervention.
To begin with trade unions especially of left and socialist parties should ensure that central government should ratify important ILO conventions including Convention 155 on occupational safety and health and the working environment, Convention 161 on occupational health services, Convention 167 on safety and health in construction, Convention 176 on safety and health in mines, Convention 184 on safety and health in agriculture and Convention 187, the promotional framework for occupational safety and health.
The current situation most cases of silicosis are not notified to enforcement agencies by industry. There are limitations in reporting system and data collection. The poor and unreliable statistics on the incidence and prevalence of silicosis also makes it difficult for the government to come up with effective strategies in terms of the design and monitoring and enforcement of regulation, victim compensation, and allocation of resources. The current system of assessing Rs 100 fine against those who fail to notify is not at all adequate.
There is no central registry for cases of silicosis and asbestos related diseases and the reporting system, data collection and the unreliable statistics on the incidence and prevalence of occupational diseases. There is a need for effective strategies in terms of both the design, monitoring and enforcement of regulation which can reverse the trend.
Member, Occupational Health India (OHI)
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