Child labour exists in a "significant" number in the agate industry in Gujarat's Khambhat region where coloured stones are shaped and polished into beads and other decorative items, a study has revealed.
Being an unorganised sector, the agate workers are exploited as they are paid less than the minimum wages fixed by the state government, and are also deprived of the benefits entitled to them under the Factory's Act or Workmen Compensation Act because they are unable to establish employee-employer relationship, it further said.
The study was conducted by the Vadodara-based voluntary organisation, Peoples Training and Research Centre (PTRC), working on the occupational safety and health, with special focus on industry were workers are prone to silicosis. "Our study was conducted in Khambhat region where agate industry has been in existence since many years. Over 15000 workers are engaged in the industry which is highly
unorganised," Jagdish Patel of PTRC said here today.
"Child labour has significant existence in the agate industry. In our study over 10 per cent of the respondents were in the age group of 6-18 years. There were over 400 workers in the age of 15-18 years and over 50 in 11-14 years," Patel said.
As many as 4570 agate workers participated in the study which included 51 per cent males and 49 per cent females, he added.
Agate is an impure form of quartz consisting of banded chalcedony, used as a gemstone and for making mortars and pestles.
Patel said the gemstone industry was highly unorganised and all the shaping and polishing of the coloured gem stones and agates which is a silicate quartz, is done through outsourcing in the form of job work to artisans.
"Because this is an unorganised sector, the workers are not able to get benefit of Factory Act or the Workers' Compensation Act, or cannot avail any social security benefits of the state government. The main reason being that they are not able to establish the employer-employee relationship with the person who outsources them the job work," he said.
Over 40 per cent workers work in an employer's house, while around 59 per cent operate from their own homes, the study concluded.
"Based on this result, the state labour department can work on establishing the employee-employer relationship and organise the agate industry," Patel said.
Also, over 85 per cent workers earn less than Rs 2000 per month, which is nowhere near the minimum wage declared by the state government, he claimed.
Patel said that people who shape and polish the stones in workshops in their homes have risk of being affected with silicosis. The study showed that 483 respondents were exposed to silica dust from the agate.
Grinding and polishing of agate stones generates large amount of dust containing particles of the size 2-5 micron, mostly free silica, which when inhaled reaches alveoli of lungs causing Silicosis-a deadly disease.