Punish those guilty of not securing the safety of workers

Workers killed in “accidents in Bhilai” and Vizag steel plants

At least six workers of Bhilai Steel Plant (BSP) were killed and over 30 injured due to leaking of poisonous gas on the night of June 12, 2014. Soon after this, two engineers were killed on the steel melting shop 2 of Vizag steel plant on June 16, 2014.

The Bhilai steel plant authorities claim that the gas leakage occurred due to a breakdown in a water pump. The exact cause of the tragedy in Vizag steel plant has not yet been established at the time of publishing.

Both incidents have been termed as “accidents”, but are in fact a result of the utter callousness shown for safety of workers in the present system. In the present case in the BSP, it has come to light that the plant management was informed repeatedly over the past year about the poor shape of the pipeline but no action was taken. Apparently, gas had already been leaking in smaller quantities over the last 24 hours, before the water pipeline burst. Members of the BSP Employees Union point out that the management has a history of neglecting security. Many pipelines have not been replaced in the last three decades.

The BSP has a long history of fatal incidents - one person each died in 2011 and 2012. Five persons died in 2013. There was one fatal incident earlier too in 2014. The plant also witnessed what the authorities classified as 8 “minor” accidents in 2011, six in 2012 and 12 in 2013. Despite this dismal record, the Bhilai Steel plant which produces rails and heavy steel plates, has won the Prime Minister’s Trophy for best “Integrated steel plant in the country” eleven times! This clearly shows that safety and well being of the people working and producing wealth in the factories and enterprises is hardly a criterion for being regarded as the “best” plant in the eyes of the topmost official of the government.

Workplaces in India are extremely unsafe for the workers . This is not just true of small factories and establishments but the largest enterprises as well. Every year, many workers in privately owned as well as public sector enterprises lose their lives due to the criminal callousness of the owners and the authorities who see the enterprises as sources of profit alone. They do not invest in the technology and maintenance necessary to prevent accidents and loss of lives and limbs of the workers, even though they invest in increasing capacities and measures to intensify the exploitation of workers and increase their own profits.

In the biggest ever industrial accident in Chhattisgarh, over 41 labourers had died in 2009 when an 275-metre chimney under construction at a 1200 MW power plant had collapsed on BALCO’s premises. A judicial commission found the company and the administration guilty of using substandard construction material.

Facilities ranging from SAIL’s flagship plant at Bhilai and aluminum giant BALCO to smaller sponge iron units have suffered accidents, and these have been largely due to poor safety standards, which in turn are attributed to the increasing practice of assigning even technical work to unskilled contract labourers. The work of regular employees is being outsourced to contracted workers. A task as sensitive as blasting in mines is assigned to private, non-technical labourers, Companies use contract workers to cut costs and ignore safety standards and workers’ health concerns. It is reported that the Bhilai plant once had 84,000 regularised workers but today has only 32,000, even though its production has increased threefold. Coal India Ltd produces 80 per cent of the coal in India but 60 per cent of its labourers are on contract. Most such workers are untrained and know little about safety.

What usually happens after such incidents is that the authorities make a show of grief, announce some ex gratia amounts for those killed or injured and announce an inquiry. The very fact that such “accidents” occur time and again shows that the authorities are not serious about preventing them – small wonder because establishing effective safety measures and safe working conditions requires investments that don’t yield profits for the capitalists and the government. The government owned Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) is investing around Rs 18,000 crore to raise the production capacity of the Plant from 3.9 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) production capacity that it has now to 7 mtpa. But how much of this peoples’ money that is going to be so invested is actually going to be used to make the place safer for the workers and the people living around the plant?

Workers all over the world have fought for safe working conditions over the centuries and forced the capitalists and the governments to implement many safety measures. However the motive of the capitalists clearly is private profit and not the well being of the majority of the population. The governments controlled by the capitalists therefore turns a blind eye to even the most criminal violations of the laws governing safety in work places. Only the struggle of the workers for safe working conditions fit for human beings can ensure implementation of the law. Only when the rule of the toilers is established and the ownership of the means of large-scale production is taken over by the working people can the focus shift decisively from the profits and aggrandisement of a few to the production of material wealth under the most safe working conditions for the well being of the majority.

MEL severely condemns the authorities and governments for the latest industrial incidents and calls upon the workers to strengthen the struggle for safe working conditions and to unite the toiling masses to overthrow the anti-worker capitalist system.


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