A day after a fire at an industrial unit in Outer Delhi killed 27 people, workers’ rights groups on Saturday raised the alarm over unregulated working conditions and concerns about further deregulation once the new labour codes are implemented.
In a statement, the Delhi chapter of the Working Peoples’ Coalition, a group of organisations representing informal sector workers, said the fire at the factory in Mundka was shocking.
“Most of the workers in that building were young women workers. The massive blaze which engulfed a four-storey building in Delhi’s Mundka on Friday began in a factory on the premises that did not have a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Fire Department. Even worse, the owners did not apply for one. WPC condemns this culpable homicide which occurred due to state negligence and ignorance,” the statement read.
The unit produced electronic equipment without facing any inspections and this was not an isolated incident, but merely the tip of the iceberg, it said.
“The safety of Indian workers is systematically being increasingly jeopardised as they are forced to make their living working for such firms that have been flourishing and carrying out their production without minimum safety measures,” the WPC said.
The group added that the Centre’s Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020, (OSHWC) which would replace existing laws on the matter, once implemented, would further remove any oversight and inspection by labour departments.
“The Mundka incident is just one more harbinger and such incidents will be the new normal without any impunity. For example, the new standing order which will apply to establishments where over 300 workers are employed/engaged. So, no labour laws related to occupational safety and working conditions will apply to such spaces [like in Mundka case]. As per an estimate, this is over 85% of India’s labour market, especially including those in medium and small enterprises, which often tend to be riskier and more vulnerable to occupational hazards and safety violations,” the statement read.
The group also cited reports by IndustriAll Global Union, an international federation of unions, that said Delhi had witnessed 1,529 industrial accidents from 2014 to 2018, the highest in the country.
“There is just one factory inspector for 506 registered factories. We must take note that this number does not include the informal labour market such as the factory in Mundka,” it said.
Meanwhile, another group, the Migrant Workers’ Solidarity Network called for action by leaders.
“Condolence messages from elected leaders on #MundkaFire need to be backed by action. It is an open secret that Delhi’s unplanned industrial clusters allow fire & construction norms to be flouted. These will be made more flexible under the OSHWC Code. (sic),” they said in a tweet.
The Indian Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) Delhi committee said the incident was “man-made” and that the Delhi government’s labour department, the municipal corporation and the police should be held accountable for the illegal industrial units. IFTU demanded that the owners of the factory and building be arrested and the Labour Minister of Delhi resign.