Very often, it has been forgotten that a country’s most important asset is its people, the ones who build the Nation. Instead, the benchmark of achievement is being appreciated by International Agencies like Moody’s Corporation and Standard & Poor Global Ratings, even while the country faces a low rate of productivity among its work force. In India also, there has been no trend to promote employee well-being which would make for the financial wellness of nation. A healthy workforce requires less sick days; workers will not be pushed into debts due to medical bills; that leads to higher productivity and can sustain the country’s competitive edge. Hence making people healthy will benefit both business and society; it would be a move towards a healthier Nation.
According to the latest World Economic Forum’s report, in which 19 charts has been explained on India’s economic challenges, where the labour productivity is below 20% assessed in sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, and market service. The GDP per capita of a worker is 1.627 US dollar and output of a worker is 10.249 US dollar. This period also witnessed a rise in inequality, which has been mainly driven by income gaps between States, and a growing urban-rural divide. India continues to have the largest number of the poor in the world; approximately 300 million are in extreme poverty.
On November 20, eight workers were killed at the ongoing tunnelling work for the Bhima-Nira river linking project near village Akole at Bhigwan in Pune. The death of 32 workers and serious injuries to other workers were reported from power plant operated by the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) in Unchahar, Raebareli district, Uttar Pradesh in the beginning of December. Thirty-nine sewer workers died across India in a span of 100 days between April and July, 2017 while manually cleaning sewers, stated Bezwada Wilson, the national convenor of Safai Karmachari Andolan. These are some of the incidents happened in the country due to heartless disregard for workers’ safety and the violation of labour laws.
The changes in the job scenario today in terms of patterns and working relationship, the rise in self-employment, greater sub-contracting, outsourcing of work, home-based work and increasing number of employees working outside industry units create problems of safety and health risks at workplaces. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) statistics of 2003 claimed that 403,000 people died from work-related problems in India. This translates to about 46 people dying per hour. There seems to be no updated statistics available in this regard. One private study cited that during the period from 2010 to 2015, 39% of deaths happened in the working-age population i.e. 15-64 years. The country has witnessed 19 million deaths among working-age group people that are the highest in the world. Among them 35% deaths were due to injuries at workplace.
No Assurance of Workers’ Health
As an immediate effect of the Supreme Court directive in September 2016, the Central Government during the last Parliament session cleared National Health Policy 2017, which promises to increase public health spending to 2.5% of GDP in a time-bound manner and guarantees healthcare services to all citizens, particularly the underprivileged. But the same policy failed to acknowledge the much-demanded right based healthcare elements, which would have legal consequences and sustainability like the ESIS, CGHS and ECHS schemes have been giving to formal employees.
More than that, an RTI inquiry has revealed the phasing out attitude of Government towards Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) which was launched in 2008 for Below Poverty Line (BPL) households and later expanded to cover other 11 defined categories of unorganised workers which comes to almost 94% of workforce of the country.
In spite of last year's Budget wherein the Finance Minister promised a health cover of Rs 1 lakh for each poor family under the National Health Protection Scheme, the project is yet to be on the go.
The same RTI reply cited that RSBY was implemented in 15 States: Karnataka, Kerala, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura. This is the lowest number of States wherein the RSBY scheme has been implemented since 2008. After the Health Ministry took over from Labour and Employment Ministry in 2015, the RSBY scheme of cashless health cover of up to Rs 30,000 is provided for a maximum of five members of a family, the officials opined most of the States are not keen to put into operation RSBY. This entire step seems to be moving away from the potential right based universal health scheme of RSBY well accepted by international bodies like WHO.
In the year 2015, the National Health Policy Draft of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare cited that over 63 million people were pushed into poverty every year in India because of healthcare expenditure. It indicated 86% of rural population and 82% of the urban population were still not covered under any scheme, either public or private, to support health expenditure. Among workers of the country, only 8% have some sort of health security.
The national policy on safety and health at work, adopted by the government in 2009, is yet to be enforced. The workers' safety and health scenario is a multifaceted reality in India, a fast-growing economy with a large population of workers. A large number of unorganised sector workers, cheap labour accessibility, skimpy public spending on health, inadequate execution of existing legislation, lack of reliable employees’ safety and health data, shortage of occupational safety and health professionals, diversity of statutory controls and infrastructure problems are the main factors of occupational safety that makes health issues more complex in the country .
Studies repeatedly assert that disregard to the well-being of people remains one of the most common deficiencies in our society. Insufficient health security ruins all major development claims. As per the Declaration of Alma-Ata International Conference on Primary Health Care, 1978, of which India is one of the signatories, the World Health Organisation says ‘better health' makes an important contribution to economic progress, as healthy populations live longer, are more productive, save more, and invest for education of children, who are the future of a nation. India needs to take steps to look after the real asset of the nation, that is, its workers.(The writer is Founder Director of Workers' India Federation. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org)