India doubles compensation for textile loom worker deaths

2017-06-06 Vatican Radio

India has doubled the compensation for the death of power loom workers in its textile industry as part of a benefits scheme to weed out problems plaguing the labour-intensive sector.

India is one of the largest fabric producers in the world  and has traditionally been a cornerstone of the Indian economy in terms of foreign exchange earnings and employment. Power looms contribute around 70 per cent of the total jobs in the textile industry, employing around 6.5 million people.

A single person, working 12 hours or more, often tends to six to nine looms inside cramped spaces, exposing them to loud noise and injuries from the shuttle that moves at a high speed across the loom. Nearly 60 percent of the fabric and garments they produce is exported.

The government's worker protection scheme, called PowerTex India, was launched in April and includes a helpline for workers and subsidies for employers to upgrade their machinery.

“We have to develop the textile value chain and upgrade the technology to be more competitive,” India's textile commissioner Kavita Gupta told Reuters. “All the schemes are aimed at addressing drudgery, to better the working conditions and modernise infrastructure. If the sector has to grow, workers have to grow. Workers often work long hours because of erratic power supply, an issue the government is trying to address by providing solar panels to factories” she said.

The insurance coverage - 200,000 rupees ($3,100) in the case of a natural death and 400,000 rupees for accidental death – was rolled out this month, in addition to disability compensation of 200,000 rupees.

A study by India's National Institute of Occupational Health found that power loom workers are exposed to more than 100 decibels of sound - equivalent to the sound of a jackhammer or lawnmower - putting them at severe risk of hearing loss.

Most workers die after they are no longer able to work and have returned to their villages.

About 20,000 workers have signed up for the scheme so far. Campaigners worry enrolment could be low because employers are worried about incurring more costs per worker and therefore reluctant to disclose their staffing.

“If power loom units (factories) declare them as employees, they will have to extend other social benefits as required by the law,” said Jagdish Patel, labour researcher at Gujarat-based charity People's Training and Research Centre. (Reuters)

(from Vatican Radio)