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Worker Safety And Welfare In Relation To The Coconut Industry - Sri Lanka Experience

All the major activities connected with the coconut industry, namely, cultivation, harvesting and gathering, processing and value-addition are highly labour intensive. In most countries, the coconut industry also employs a high content of female workers. Most of the activities connected with harvesting and post-harvest utilization, require semi-skilled and skilled labour. Some of these activities such as harvesting and most activities connected with processing of coconut products could be maintained at commercially viable and productive levels, only with the use of skilled labour. In most, such activities requiring skilled labour, alternatives to human skill, such as mechanization, have not been too successful in terms of maintaining the required level of productivity and out put. The nature of work-performed by workers in most of the activities in the coconut industry is unwieldy, strenuous and sometimes, even unpleasant. Some of the work operations are hazardous and risky. Hence in most coconut growing countries, workers have found the coconut industry unattractive in terms of long term employment prospects. Industrialists in many growing countries strive to keep the older workers in the labour force longer, because fewer young people are entering the work-force. Countries which have introduced and implemented effective welfare, health and safety measures on the other hand, have been able to retain a productive work-force within the industry and this has enabled such countries to maintain fairly high levels of productivity in the major activities in the industry and thereby remain competitive. The availability of a pool of skilled workers within the industry, is an important comparative advantage and countries such as Sri Lanka which have adopted early initiatives to introduce and implement such safety and welfare measures enjoy such comparative advantage, in a competitive global.

While some of the safety and welfare measures adopted in the coconut industry in Sri Lanka arise from statutory provisions based on human rights, others are voluntary and form part of social customs. Worker Safety and Welfare measures implemented in the Coconut industry in Sri Lanka include - (i) the enforcement of minimum working conditions in factories such as proper sanitation, ventilation, fighting, rest facilities, wash facilities, protective devices for machinery and equipment preventing physical injury to workers, maintenance of buildings and structures, provision of safety equipment and protective clothing to workers, provision of drinking water and First-Aid facilities. (ii) Statutory provision for (a) payment of compensation to workers for injuries sustained during workers (b) payment of specified wage rates to workers (c) determining the hours of work, holidays and leave of employees (d) the regulation of lay-off and retrenchment of employees (e) mediation, arbitration and settlement of industrial disputes (j) grant of redress to workers on termination or loss of employment (g) grant of maternity benefits to female  workers (h) compulsory payment of Provident Fund benefits to employees. (iii) provision of housing facilities (iv) provision of cash grants and loans to meet family exigencies.

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