Proper OSH mechanisms ensure all workers and employers benefit from safe and healthy workplaces

Opening remarks by Dagmar Walter, Director, ILO/DWT-CO-New Delhi at the three country OSH training workshop for plantation sector and introduction and application of WIND and WISE training methodologies.

Statement | Online Meeting | 22 February 2022
Dear Honourable representatives from Government, Trade Unions and Employers organizations from India, Sri Lanka and Nepal

I am very happy to join you today at this inaugural session of this training workshop focussing on Occupational Safety and Health in the plantation sector. We are gathered here today from three countries, with tripartite representatives for this three-day program. I look forward to rich learning and sharing of experiences.

Safe and healthy work is the right of all workers and is a foundation for sustainable development. Enabling safety and health is the responsibility of all. Since the very inception of the ILO in 1919, the protection of workers against unsafe or unhealthy working conditions has been one of the vital agendas for the tri-partite constituents. Whether it is the

 Preamble to the ILO Constitution (1919), which noted the “urgently required” improvement of “protection of the worker against sickness, disease and injury arising out of his employment”, or
 the Declaration of Philadelphia, (1944),
 the ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization, 2008, and now more recently the Centenary Declaration on Future of Work, adopted by the tripartite constituents including India in 2019, recognizes the importance of the role of sustainable enterprises as generators of employment and promoters of innovation and decent work and states that “safe and healthy working conditions are fundamental to decent work”. It also called for consideration of occupational safety and health as a fundamental right, which will be a subject matter of discussion this year in June at the International Labour Conference (ILC) 2022.

A very momentous step that, if adopted, will expand the scope of the fundamental principles and rights at work to include right to safe and healthy working conditions. As you are aware, The ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (1998 Declaration) has recognized 4 fundamental rights at work – which are

 freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
 the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour;
 the effective abolition of child labour; and
 the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.
 These rights are “inseparable, inter-related and mutually reinforcing”. As a fifth principle - right to safe and healthy working conditions, if adopted, will get the same status as the 4 fundamental rights.

Yet, the recent statistics by ILO-WHO show that work-related diseases and injuries were responsible for the deaths of approximately 1.9 million people per year (2016). Can these accidents and deaths be prevented? What steps can be taken by governments, employers and workers to enable better working and OSH conditions in workplaces? These questions require collective thinking.

Occupational Health and Safety is a concern for governments as it has a direct impact on the economy. In addition to incalculable suffering of individuals, - lost workdays due to poor OSH, represent almost 4% of the world's annual GDP. And these concerns are more challenging in the context of Asia Pacific, where 65% of all major OSH related issues happen, with agriculture and construction contributing to most deaths and illnesses.

This 3-day program is being conducted in support of the constituent-agreed respective Decent Work Country Programmes, which aim for women and men workers and enterprises to benefit from safe and healthy workplaces. This initiative is part of the ILO Flagship Program, Safety + Health for All, under which the ILO/Japan funded Project, Safety + Health for All Plantation Workers in South Asia, is focussing on the plantation sectors – such as tea, coconut, rubber, and cardamom in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Plantations are important source of employment and livelihood for workers as well as a major contributor to the economy, especially in South Asia. They create, directly and indirectly, employment opportunities for millions of people and generate important export earnings. This work supports member States in achieving SDG 3, 8 and 12 on healthy lives, economic growth & decent work and responsible production and consumption.

The plantation sector presents significant challenges in establishing infrastructure and services necessary to support Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) improvements in rural and semi-rural settings. Production in plantations, whether these are large estates or small holdings, is characterized by high labour intensity especially in remote rural areas with female workers representing half of the total workforce. Several reports highlight that OSH is a major area of concern for the actors in the sector, in particular chemical and biological hazards resulting from the use of agro-chemicals with little or inadequate protection and scarce access to proper water and sanitation.

This program aims to offers a tailored set of interventions to address the immediate and longer-term safety and health needs of stakeholders, related to OSH challenges, including in the times of the pandemic. It adopts a focused approach to reduce work-related deaths, injuries & diseases. The programme focuses on 4 strategic areas - building knowledge, strengthening national capacities, creating conducive national frameworks, and promoting demand for safe and healthy workplaces.

This 3-day training workshop will focus on building knowledge on the international standards on occupational health and safety, understanding the current country context related to OSH in the 3 countries and serve as a platform for you to engage in a process of social dialogue to explore comprehensive policy level as well as implementation level actions to enable better safety and health for workers.

You will also get an introduction to the ILO’s participatory tools such as WIND i.e Work Improvement in Neighbourhood Development and WISE i.e. Work Improvement in Small Enterprises, which can be used to make low cost improvements in workplaces and develop a culture of safety and health in the communities living in and around the plantations.

One of the key discussions will also be on the issues related gender and OSH. Often different preventive OSH initiatives and data collection related to occupational diseases and accidents, tend to be focussed on occupations dominated by men. The nature of OSH challenges faced by women are different, and often not identified, captured and recognized in data as well as the OSH initiatives. This is most significant in case of plantations, providing jobs to a large female labour force.

The uniqueness of ILO tools is that they enable a joint approach to identify issues and challenges, and the tri-partite partners themselves come-up with local home-grown, low cost/ no cost solutions which can be used to make immediate improvements; as well as plan and implement strategic changes in workplaces and contribute towards strengthening the OSH frameworks by providing concrete evidence. Better OSH will improve the working conditions and leads to greater productivity, quality and sustainability, with less workdays lost, which in return is profitable for business!

To conclude, safety and health needs to be addressed together. Collective, coordinated, and convergent approaches require the tri-partite partners to work together in a comprehensive manner, strategically planning progressive steps that can be undertaken to make improvements and enable decent working conditions for profitable and sustainable enterprises.

I am confident, that with your support and commitment, a greater impact can be made to improve health and safety for the workers in the plantation sector, whether they are working in the large estates in the formal economy, or in small or medium enterprises, or in small farms and holdings in the informal economy. I hope you are able to take home the learnings from this 3-day program and develop common understanding towards a comprehensive framework for action at the end of the program. I wish you all the very best.

Thank you for your kind attention.