Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Wednesday, Jun 12, 2002
Agra footwear sector under fire
TRIAL BY FIRE: Anand Swaroop, father of Pumma, the 15-year-old worker who was among the 42 labourers who died in the Agra footwear factory fire, displays his son's photo.
NEW DELHI, June 11
A FACT-FINDING team that probed the recent fire accident in a footwear manufacturing unit in Agra, which claimed 42 lives, has severely indicted the owner of the factory, the district administration of Agra, the Directorate of Factories and the Labour Department.
The probe team comprising representatives of three trade unions - AITUC, CITU and HMS - and members of the National Campaign on Labour Rights said the fire that left 42 workers dead and 10 injured on May 24 took place primarily due to gross violation of various labour laws, including the Factories Act, 1948.
In fact, the team found that the factory, Shree Jee International that exports footwear via Mumbai-based exporters to Europe, had not been inspected since 1997, ever since the Uttar Pradesh Government had prohibited the inspection of factories without prior permission of the district magistrate.
The factory, covering an area of about 1,000 square metres and employing 300 workers, had only one door for entrance and exit and all windows at the front and back were closed and secured with wire mesh. It employed children aged between 14 and 18 years and one of them, Pumma alias Parmesh (15), died in the accident. The compensation to his family is still under dispute.
The team found that out of the thousands of footwear manufacturing units in Agra, only 51 are officially registered under the Factories Act, 1948. The rest are being run illegally, with workers sweating it out in pathetic conditions for over 10 hours a day.
The culprit, according to the team, is the virtual moratorium on inspection of factories as part of the agenda of globalisation, liberalisation and flexibilisation of the labour market. It points out that the foreign as well as Indian companies indulge in bad corporate practices and are well aware of the conditions in the factories from where they import.
However, after the accident, the district magistrate has given all footwear units 15 days to register under the Factories Act and has constituted four task forces to go into details of safety measures required in footwear manufacturing units.
The team, apart from recommending a more comprehensive package for the deceased, injured and disabled workers of Shree Jee factory, has also demanded that the unions and civil society representatives be part of the four task forces.
It recommends that the Central and State Governments set up a Social Security Fund for footwear workers with contributions from manufacturers, exporters, the Government and the workers. Besides, employers and workers be given comprehensive training on safety provisions, handling of safety equipment and emergency measures in factories handling chemicals, particularly the footwear industry.
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