Barefoot Indian workers make manhole covers for New York

November 27th, 2007 - 4:13 pm ICT by admin  

New Delhi/ Haora (WB), Nov 27 (ANI): Working in pitiable conditions, labourers at one of the West Bengals many manufacturing units, make manhole covers and other utilities for New York and other cities in the West.
According to a report, these barefoot, shirtless, whip-thin men, and seemingly impervious to the heat generated from the burning metal, rely on their strength and bare hands, rather than the machinery.
The foundry, Shakti Industries in Haora, produces manhole covers for Con Edison and New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, as well as for departments in New Orleans and Syracuse.
The photographers, who often work with The New York Times, were moved during a recent visit to Haora on seeing the condition of workers at the place where New York’s manhole covers are born.
Safety precautions are barely in evidence; just a few pairs of eye goggles were seen in use, the International Herald Tribune reports.
Photographers took back photographs and showed them to officials at Con Edison - which buys a quarter of its manhole covers, roughly 2,750 a year, from India.
On seeing the photographs, Con Edison officials were surprised.
We were disturbed by the photos, Michael S. Clendenin, director of media relations with Con Edison was quoted, as saying.
“We take worker safety very seriously,” Clendenin said.
Now, the utility said, it is rewriting international contracts to include safety requirements.
Contracts will now require overseas manufacturers to “take appropriate actions to provide a safe and healthy workplace,” and to follow local and federal guidelines in India, Clendenin said.
At Shakti, a few women were also working. The temperature outside the factory yard was more than 100 degrees on a September visit.
Several feet from where the metal was being poured, the area felt like an oven, and the workers were slick with sweat.
Often, sparks flew from pots of the molten metal onto the clothes of the workers.
Once the metal solidified and cooled, workers removed the manhole cover casting from the mould and then, in the last step in the production process, ground and polished the rough edges.
Finally, the men stacked the covers and bolted them together for shipping.
“We can’t maintain the luxury of Europe and the United States, with all the boots and all that,” Shakti Industries director Sunil Modi was quoted, as saying.
He said, however, that the foundry never had accidents.
At the Shakti Industries foundry, “there are no accidents, never ever,” Modi said. “By God’s will, it’s all fine.”
He was concerned about the attention, afraid that contracts would be pulled and jobs lost, the report said.
New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, another buyer of sewer manhole covers from India, said that state law requires the city to buy the lowest-priced products available that fit its specifications.
Mark Daly, director of communications for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, said the law forbids the city from excluding companies based on where a product is manufactured.
Con Edison said it did not plan to cancel any of its contracts with Shakti after seeing the photographs.
Manhole covers manufactured in India can be anywhere from 20 to 60 percent cheaper than those made in the United States, said Alfred Spada, the spokesman for the American Foundry Society.
Workers at foundries in India are paid the equivalent of a few dollars a day, while foundry workers in the United States earn about 25 dollars an hour.
India’s 1948 Factory Safety Act addresses cleanliness, ventilation, waste treatment, overtime pay and fresh drinking water, but the only protective gear it specifies is safety goggles.
Modi said that his factory followed basic safety regulations and that workers should not be barefoot. “It must have been a very hot day” when the photos were taken, he said.
Some labour activists in India say that injuries are far higher than figures show. “Many accidents are not being reported,” said H. Mahadevan, the deputy general secretary for the All-India Trade Union Congress.
Safety, overall, is “not taken as a serious concern by employers or trade unions,” Mahadevan added. (ANI)

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