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ILO Report Urges Climate-Proofing of Labour Conditions


The International Labour Organisation (ILO) recently released a report titled “Ensuring safety and health at work in a changing climate” to address the global health threats faced by workers. The report highlights the urgent need to climate-proof the future of labour and adapt to the evolving work environment due to climate change. It reveals that over a third of the world’s population is exposed to excessive heat annually, leading to nearly 23 million work-related injuries. The ILO emphasizes the necessity for an overhaul of existing Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) protections and laws to address the evolving risks posed by climate change, which have resulted in worker mortality and morbidity.


GS III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Emerging Hazards
  2. Sectors Affected the Most
  3. Laws Addressing Workplace Safety

Emerging Hazards

  • The International Labour Organization (ILO) identifies six key impacts of climate change:
    • Excessive heat
    • Ultraviolet (UV) radiation
    • Extreme weather events
    • Workplace air pollution
    • Vector-borne diseases
    • Agrochemicals
  • These hazards can result in health issues such as stress, stroke, and exhaustion.
  • Agriculture workers, construction workers, conservancy workers, and those in transport and tourism are most affected by climate change.
  • Gig employment, a rapidly growing sector in India, is highly susceptible to heat-related hazards, comprising workers from ride-hailing apps, food and groceries delivery, home repair services, and courier services.
  • Approximately 80% of India’s workforce of 600 million in 2023 is susceptible to heat-related hazards, surpassing the entire current population of South America.

Sectors Affected the Most

Agriculture Sector:
  • Globally, agriculture is the most heat-susceptible sector, particularly in the developing world, where informal farm laborers lack adequate weather protection.
  • About 45.76% of India’s workforce was engaged in the agriculture and allied sector in 2022-23, a decrease from three decades ago.
  • Nearly 90% of Indian farmers own less than two hectares of land, earning modest incomes, with some in states like Jharkhand, Odisha, and West Bengal earning as low as ₹4,895 per month.
  • Many farmers are in debt and lack access to modern agricultural technology, hindering their ability to adapt to climate change.
  • Communities have begun adjusting work timings to mitigate heat exposure, and the ILO recommends increasing hydration points, breaks, and rest shelters in plantations.
Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Sector:
  • India’s MSME sector employs over 123 million workers, contributing significantly to exports and manufacturing output.
  • Despite its size, the sector is largely informal, lacking oversight from State Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) departments, leaving workers vulnerable to heat hazards.
Building & Construction Sector:
  • With around 70 million workers, the building and construction sector comprises nearly 12% of India’s workforce.
  • Workers in this sector face challenges from the urban heat island effect and are prone to physical injuries and air pollution-related health issues, especially in cities with high pollution levels.

Laws Addressing Workplace Safety

  • India has over 13 central laws regulating working conditions across various sectors, including:
    • The Factories Act, 1948
    • The Workmen Compensation Act, 1923
    • The Building and Other Construction Workers Act, 1996
    • The Plantations Labour Act, 1951
    • The Mines Act, 1952
    • The Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, 1979
  • These laws were consolidated and amended in September 2020 under the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020 (OSH Code, 2020).
  • Despite criticisms from unions regarding diluted safety and inspection standards, the Union government has not yet officially notified its enforcement, leading unions and the judiciary to continue relying on older laws for redress and accountability.
  • The Factories Act defines a factory as an enterprise with “10 or more” workers, but the majority of India’s 64 million MSMEs are not registered under this law, thus evading governmental inspections.

Provisions Regarding Heat Hazards

  • The Factories Act broadly defines “ventilation and temperature,” leaving it to the states to determine optimal standards for specific industries.
  • However, these regulations were formulated decades ago, with Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu setting rules in 1963 and 1950, respectively, mentioning a maximum wet bulb temperature of 30°C and requiring “adequate air movement of at least 30 meters per minute.”

Provisions Regarding Other Climate Hazards

  • The OSH 2020 Code attempts remediation, but a clause allowing online inspection of safety by enterprises raises concerns about compromising an already weakly implemented law.

-Source: Indian Express

May 2024