Focus on hygiene, welfare of workers, labour conditions

The State government has come up with a slew of measures to monitor the hygiene and welfare of fish peeling workers, mostly women from financially-backward families working under punishing conditions. The Fisheries and Ports Department has ordered the setting up of District Level Monitoring Committees (DLMC) in Kozhikode, Thrissur, Ernakulam, Kollam, and Alappuzha districts, where the fish peeling and processing industry, with an eye on the export market, flourishes in the State.

The monitoring committees, chaired by the District Collectors concerned, will monitor the health, labour conditions and keep tabs on the pollution scale of the peeling units. The panel will have representatives from various departments, including Labour, Health Services, Environment, ESI, Provident Fund Department, Factories and Boilers Department, Deputy Director of Fisheries and a representative of peeling workers as members.

The initiative should be a joint effort by the various departments to monitor the hygiene, wage and other service conditions and other working conditions of labourers in fish peeling and processing units in Kerala, a Government Order (GO) of October 26 issued by the Fisheries and Ports Department said.

The district committees would file periodic reports to the State Level Monitoring Committee headed by the Director of Fisheries.

Fish-peeling centres in Kozhikode district are mostly located in Korapuzha bridge, Kappad and Puthiyappa.

“The workers are mostly drawn from the fishing community and are mostly women from economically backward families. They work on daily wages, ranging between Rs. 130 to Rs. 150. Two years back wages ranged between Rs. 70 to Rs. 80,” T.V. Ramesan, Project Officer, Matsyafed, Kozhikode, said. The order directs the State committee to look into measures to raise the minimum wages of the peeling workers.

The recommendations have been long due as a lull in fishing activities like the annual trawl ban also affects thousands of workers engaged in fish peeling, ice-making and vending.

Peeling centres basically concentrate on export quality products like prawns, Tuna, mackerel and pomfret, he said.

The GO said the DLMCs would comprehensively “deal with problems of peeling workers such as income security, work security, medical care under ESI, ESI coverage of peeling workers, conducting training and awareness programmes in sanitation, hygiene, pre-process handling, Matsya Board schemes, registration in Matsya Board, introducing suitable health package, conducting medical camps for health problems, health education to peeling workers, etc.” The district panels would meet once in three months to review their findings and programmes.

As per the guidelines under the October 26 order, the DLMCs have to ensure through the labour department that muster roll are properly maintained at peeling sheds subjected to inspection.

Other directions include that fish-peeling sheds employing over 20 peeling workers come under the Factories Act and such peeling sheds should provide them with provident fund coverage. The panel has also to ensure that health officials visit peeling sheds regularly. The district committee has sweeping powers to gather information and take action against peeling units functioning illegally. The order has directed peeling units to not store solid waste generated for more than 12 hours on the premises.

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