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Social security net can do little for diamond workers

As suicide,crime and desperation plague jobless diamond workers and issue of relief packages take political hue,a fact stands out— existence of a large number of unregistered polishing units.

Written by Gaurav Sharma | Ahmedabad |
February 14, 2009 1:34:35 am

Most units are not registered under programmes like Employees’ State Insurance Scheme,Workmen Compensation Act and Employees’ Provident Fund scheme

As suicide,crime and desperation plague jobless diamond workers and issue of relief packages take political hue,a fact stands out— existence of a large number of unregistered polishing units.

Most diamond polishers in the world’s largest diamond industry cannot benefit from the existing social security net. Programmes like Employees’ State Insurance Scheme (ESIS),Workmen Compensation Act (WCA),and Employee Provident Fund scheme (EPF) always existed,but the diamond factory owners never bothered to register their units under them.

While Labour department officials refuse to say as to how could such an industry function for years without being regulated,the Employee State Insurance Corporation Gujarat (ESIC) said though Surat’s diamond industry comes under its purview,ensuring its implementation is state government’s responsibility.

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As per the Act,an employee contributes 1.75 per cent and the employer contributes 4.5 per cent of the basic pay towards the ESIS fund. Similar provisions are there for EPF and other schemes.

A survey of the diamond units was also conducted only after the Union Labour Secretary Sudha Pillai visited Surat in response to the crisis and directed the officials to survey the functioning,non-functioning units and affected workers.

Naishad Desai,INTUC state unit president,who is based in Surat,said: “Nearly 99.9 per cent of the units are not registered even under the mandatory Factories Act,leave alone these schemes. Most labourers in this industry are illiterate and don’t even know the name of the factories they work for. Also,no identity cards are issued to them.”

He added that had the government taken notice of these discrepancies earlier and these schemes were implemented,it would have provided some cushion during the economic slowdown.

Lalit Thummar,spokesperson of the Gujarat Diamond Federation,said the negligible registration has been due to the confusing policies of the state government in regard to the status of the diamond industry.

“The government has been classifying us under three categories: sometimes as cottage industry,some times as home-based industry and also at par with other industrial units,” he said.

He said while they might be considered as cottage industry,the power tariff is the same as for other industries,which makes most of them not go for registration. Also,the industry has been traditionally working on trust,with business transaction in crores only through word of mouth and not formal procedure,Thummar added.

ESIC officials refusing to be named acknowledged the workers cannot avail the benefits as the units are not registered officially.

V N Patel,Director,Industrial Health and Hygiene,Gujarat,said,“As per law,the industry must be covered under the social security net,including ESIS,EPF and WCA.”

While he refused to comment further,Vatsala Vasudeva,Labour Commissioner,Gujarat,could not be contacted.

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