Towards a Safe and Sustainable Ship Recycling Industry in India

Inaugural address by Ms. Dagmar Walter, Director, ILO DWT for South Asia and Country Office for India at National Tripartite Workshop on Improving Occupational Safety and Health towards a Safe and Sustainable Ship Recycling Industry in India organised in partnership with Directorate General Factory Advice Service and Labour Institutes (DGFASLI).

Statement | Mumbai | 26 September 2019
  • Namaskar and good morning;
  • Dr. Avneesh Singh, Director General and Chief Inspector of Dock Safety, Directorate General Factory Advice Service and Labour Institutes (DGFASLI);
  • Representatives of trade unions and employers’ organizations;
  • Distinguished senior officials of the central and state governments;
  • Distinguished guests and participants.
On behalf of the ILO, I would like to extend our sincere appreciation to DGFASLI for co-organizing this important national workshop. I see that the workshop has brought together our tripartite constituents and professionals from the field of occupational safety and health in the ship-recycling industry. It will allow us to renew our commitments to improve occupational safety and health of the ship-recycling industry and jointly consider how the industry can become safer and more sustainable. The employers and workers are keen to know and share information about measures to prevent occupational accidents and diseases, and improve the health and wellbeing of ship recycling workers and enhance the productivity and sustainability of the sector.

The ILO has always been strongly committed to developing preventive strategies on OSH, and it is well placed to do so. Its unique tripartite structure enables government, employers, and worker representatives to meet internationally on equal terms. As embodied in the Preamble to the Constitution of the ILO, the protection of workers against sickness, disease and injury related to their work environment, has been a central issue for the ILO since 1919.

Constituents’ strong commitment towards OSH was re-affirmed in their ILO Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work, adopted at the International Labour Conference in June this year. It marks the 100 years of the Organization and responds to the transformative change that the world of work is experiencing, driven by technological innovations, demographic shifts, climate change and globalization. The Centenary Declaration acknowledges that safe and healthy working conditions are fundamental to decent work, and the need to ensure effective action to achieve the transition from informality to a formal economy. All workers should enjoy adequate protection in accordance with the Decent Work Agenda, taking into account: respect for their fundamental rights; an adequate minimum wage, be it statutory or negotiated; maximum limits on working time; and safety and health at work.

The deconstruction of ships after they have reached the end of their seafaring life is an overlooked but essential part of the world economy. When older ships become too expensive to maintain or are no longer needed, they are sold for recycling.

Between 2008 and 2017, about 12 million gross tonnes of ships were recycled in India, with the vast majority of activity happening in Alang near Bhavnagar in Gujarat. The volume of valuable materials that are recovered, repaired, re-used, refurbished and recycled makes ship recycling an essential element in the global transition to a circular economy.

The industry creates many jobs. According to the Government of India, the industry provides direct employment to around 25,000 workers and indirect employment in much larger numbers. It is important to recognise that many of these are migrant labourers from other states and that the value chain also involves women.

The Government of India made substantial progress with regard to the laws and regulations to improve the working conditions and OSH for ship recycling workers towards the promotion of decent work. We would like to continue working with the constituents for improvement with regard to occupational safety and health, working conditions, skills development, productivity, and the sustainability of the industry. The industry is faced with a number of challenges related to both the hazardous nature of the work and its environmental impact. Not all ship recycling activities are green, and not all green jobs constitute decent work.

We can no longer ignore the fact that we must adopt a proactive prevention-based approach to improving safety and health and make consistent efforts to create a culture of prevention. The key ILO instruments on OSH, especially the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155), its 2002 Protocol, the Occupational Health Services Convention, 1985 (No. 161), and the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006 (No. 187) provide us with a sound springboard to strengthen OSH national systems. The ILO Safety and Health in Shipbreaking - Guidelines for Asian countries and Turkey, published in 2004, further offer concrete solutions to improve the safety and sustainability of the ship recycling industry.

We all know from experience that workplaces that have trade unions and follow collective agreements, in particular active safety and health committees, are safer and healthier workplaces. Thus, Employers’ and workers’ collaborative activities to improve OSH at the workplace are critical.

We cannot ignore the needs of those who are most vulnerable in the world of work. We must look at the safety and health of all workers, also at the bottom of the global supply chain of the ship-recycling industry, including workers in micro and small enterprises and the informal economy.

The Government of India has been taking steps towards strengthening national systems of occupational safety and health. In 2009, the 1st National Policy on Safety, Health, and Environment at Workplace of India was adopted. Since then, this policy has been widely referred to for promoting OSH. In 2017, the Government of India, employers’ and workers’ organizations, along with the ILO, carried out six regional and national consultation workshops. As a result of these extensive tripartite consultations, the available OSH data and information have been compiled, analysed in the now ready to be published National OSH Profile.

During the exercise of developing this National OSH Profile, the tripartite constituents of India and ILO noticed that many occupational disease cases still remain unreported without having proper remedy and compensation. The constituents recommend that preventing occupational accidents and diseases and protecting workers’ health be made a priority area for national action. Workers and employers need urgent support to identify and then eliminate occupational health hazards and risks at their workplaces.

In the next two days, we will look at the details of the occupational safety and health situation in the ship-recycling industry of India. The objectives of the national tripartite workshop are to:
  • arrive at a common understanding of the challenges and opportunities for decent work in the Indian ship recycling industry, focusing on the improvement of OSH, but also on the potential for making the industry more productive and sustainable;
  • define policies and actions that will improve occupational safety and health in the sector and help bring about a safe and sustainable recycling industry in India; and
  • agree to the measures and actions required by the Government of India, employers and their associations, workers and their organizations, and other key industry stakeholders, and the ILO.
In addition, the Government of India has also drafted a proposed Ship Recycling Bill 2018, along the lines of the International Maritime Organization’s Convention for the safe and environmentally sound recycling of ships, called the Hong Kong Convention (HKC). This workshop and its follow-up may assist the government and social partners to move in this direction.

The ILO looks forward to working with you towards these objectives, to improve working conditions and productivity for a sustainable ship recycling industry.

I wish you all very fruitful deliberations.

Thank you for your kind attention!