Safe workplace is important for workers vis a vis productivity increase and business sustainability

Opening remarks by Satoshi Sasaki, Deputy Director, ILO-DWT/CO-New Delhi, at the meeting of the project, “Safety + Health for All Plantation Workers in South Asia - India Component” with the small growers' organizations/ associations.

Statement | Online Meeting | 18 February 2022
Good morning!
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to address in this virtual consultation meeting to discuss about the issues related to occupational safety and health in the small tea holdings. This consultation is important to discuss with you the issues and challenges faced by small tea growers and the women and men workers in the small holdings and small tea plantations, starting with the existing safety and health conditions, OSH mechanisms available at workplace level, challenges faced, etc. The impact of COVID-19 pandemic has been enormously affecting the workplace dynamics and how the work needs to be carried out. Today’s consultation is to discuss some of these issues and the possible solutions to improve the occupational safety and health in the small tea holdings. I am happy that you all could join in this important meeting amidst many challenges including the ones posed by Covid -19 pandemic.

As we are aware, safety and health at work is very important. Every day, people die, get sick, or get severally injured because of the occupational accidents or work-related diseases. The WHO/ILO joint report for the period 2000–2016 in its first estimates related to OSH, indicated that work-related injuries and diseases caused 1.9 million deaths in one single year, during 2016 worldwide. Therefore, it becomes very clear and important that we need to pay more attention to safety and health, to avoid work related diseases and injuries.

There have been ongoing discussions in the ILO, about the importance of the OSH and its increased importance during the pandemic. In 2019, the ILO member states, including India, adopted the Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work at the International Labour Conference, declaring that “safe and healthy working conditions are fundamental to decent work”. It was revolutionary for the ILO as it also recommended to include occupational safety and health as a fundamental right of workers. The ILO Constitution, also recognizes the protection of workers against sickness, disease and injury arising out of employment, as a fundamental element to achieve social justice. In the present situation, pandemic taught us the need to improve health and safety at work, and also on sanitation and hygiene, which are pre-requisites to prevent the spread of infection to a larger extent. It is also learnt that occupational safety and health is a top priority to sustain jobs and businesses in this environment.

To address the challenges, the ILO’s Safety + Health for All programme has launched a sub-regional project focussing on the promoting Safety and Health for All Plantation Workers in South Asia. This project, funded by the Japanese government, aims at improving the OSH conditions of the workers in not just the large estates in plantations but also the women and men workers who work in small holdings and in informal plantation sectors of tea, cardamom, coconut and rubber in South Asia, covering India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. In India, the project focuses on the tea sector in Assam. The focus of the project is to improve the conditions of the tea plantation workers in the State of Assam. This project is a part of the ILO’s Decent Work Country Programme of India and align with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations.

India is the second largest producer of tea globally, and Assam is considered the largest single tea growing state with both large estates and smallholders, characterized by high labour intensity especially in remote rural areas, with female workers representing half of the total workforce. During the beginning of the project in India, ILO organized a consultative meeting with the Employers organizations and small growers in July 2021 to discuss the work plan of the project. Some of you, may have participated in that meeting. The meeting highlighted the importance of improving the OSH conditions in the tea sector in Assam and recommended capacity building measures through ILO tools and methodologies. As a follow up, this meeting will focus on ways of collaboration with the small growers. Thus, I, invite you all to discuss the importance of OSH in the meeting today and identify the key issues related to Occupational Health and Safety for the small farms. It is critically important for us ILO to hear from you about your needs for training and capacity building in this respect. You will hear more about the proposed project activities in subsequent sessions and the possible ways ILO can collaborate and contribute for improving the conditions of OSH, address sexual harassment and violence at work. For this, we also look forward to listen to your insights based on your long and valuable experiences in the area of enabling better health and safety conditions for tea workers.

Thank you for your kind attention and I wish you fruitful discussions!