Tuesday, 7 February, 2023

Ensuring Occupational Safety During COVID-19 Pandemic

Shankar Man Singh


With the slogan of “Invest now in flexible occupational safety and health systems”, the 132nd International May Day is being marked today. It is imperative to create an environment conducive to building a civilised, dignified and prosperous Nepal as per our vision, respecting labour and investing by promoting employers.
May Day is also a day to inspire people to develop protective skills and move towards sustainable economic development through unity and cooperation. It offers an opportunity for all of us to be proactive in improving the relationship between workers and employers by the legal provisions of the Constitution and the prevailing laws and regulations and to create an environment in which the money saved in the contribution-based Social Security Fund can be used for the benefit and efficiency of workers.

This is such an occasion that calls government, workers, consumers and employers to move forward with the country's economic development. The COVID-19 epidemic has exposed governments, employers, workers and the general public to unprecedented challenges. It has had far-reaching effects on the world of work.
The pandemic has affected almost every aspect of the workplace, from the risk of transmitting the virus in the workplace to occupational safety and health risks. Changes to ways of working such as widespread dependence on telecommunications have created many opportunities for workers to reduce the risks, including potential occupational safety and health risks and other potential risks, especially violence.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) raises awareness and encourages dialogue on the importance of building and investing in flexible occupational safety and health systems, illustrating examples from both the region and the country to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.
Humans have some basic needs, including shelter, clothing, and food. But today, money is another thing that is becoming a basic need for human beings because with the help of money a person can fulfill all other basic needs.
To earn money, one has to do a business or a job. Not everyone is academically qualified to find employment in a multinational company. Such people work as laborers. Sometimes even well-educated people have to do such things because of poverty and unemployment.
People don’t think about the hard work or smart work that they accept as an opportunity. No one likes to do such work, but if one person has only one option left, there is no other way to escape from such work. Many a times we see workers being discriminated against on the basis of their work. This must be ended.
Workers feel that they do not have higher education so they cannot do any big business or job that will make a difference to their life. But it is never too late to get education or learn things. One can continue learning till the last breath. People should first understand the importance of this day and then celebrate it with joy and treat the workers equally for every moment in life.
Labour is needed everywhere. But there should be the realisation that workers are not slaves. They also have self-esteem. John Locke says: “A person is not paid to have a head and hands, but to use them. It's really the labor that makes all the difference”.
Similarly, Henry George says: "Any business that depends on its existence depends on a lower wage than its workers. It does not have the right to continue in this country.” Martin Luther King Jr. said: “All labour for the upliftment of humanity has dignity and importance and with that labour we must move forward with excellence”.
In the wake of the horrific conditions in which European industrialists were exploiting low-wage workers for up to 15 hours a day in the 19th century industrialisation, their workers protested on May 1, 1886 for equality, fair wages, and fair leave. And they called for a unification of the labour environment and a division of one day's time into eight hours of work, eight hours of rest and eight hours of recreation.
Many workers in the world spend all day working just to eat and stay in the evening. This is the challenging situation that Nepal is also facing today. Health workers and security personnel are taking the lead in the fight against the pandemic without the flow of physical shock and mental stress day and night.
It is essential for the government to ensure proper safety of health workers and respectful evaluation of labour.
The Labor Day emphasises on the judicial management of all working classes, including the intellectual working class. In today's world of globalisation, liberalisation, privatisation, industrialisation and marketing, employers and workers have come together to realise that without workers, there can be no boss.
The labour movement in Nepal that had been launched by the workers from Biratnagar Jute Mills in 2003 BS finally brought the 104-year-old Rana regime to its knees. The contribution made by Nepali workers in all the political changes is no less important.
A cursory review of history shows that the voice of workers has become more organised legally after the trade union movement, which rose to prominence in Nepal only after 2046 BS. The right to labour is now recognised as a fundamental right in Article 34 of the constitution. The right to social security based on fair remuneration, facilities, and contributions is guaranteed by the constitution.
The constitution has enshrined the right of every worker to practise labor and to open and participate in trade unions and to bargain collectively. The Labor Act, 2074 is now in place to manage the rights, interests and facilities of the workers, to develop good labor relations by making clear arrangements for the rights and duties of the workers and employers and to end all remnants of labour exploitation.

Social security
Among the workers, those who are working in the unorganised sectors on daily wage basis are most affected. According to the ILO, the employment of more than one and a half billion such workers in the world are now at risk of losing their jobs. In the absence of any alternative income, the livelihoods of these workers and their families will be in jeopardy. In Nepal, too, millions of people work in the unorganised sector.

(A former head of NEPSE and SEZ, the author is currently affiliated with the private sector.)