MAC: Mines and Communities

Labour and Women in Mining

Published by MAC on 2003-04-15

Labour and Women in Mining

Background Paper by Mines, Minerals and People (MMP) for the Indian Women and Mining seminar, Delhi April 2003

Mining is a very patriarchal industry and the most hostile sector towards women. The historical myth globally that the presence of women in the mine pits leads to collapse of mines and death of miners itself resonates with the hostility and contempt towards women by the mining sector. If mining were to be defined as a development activity as our governments and the mining industry reiterate, we have to also analyse the economics of mining from the perspective of gender. Given our country's experience of extensive mining operations ranging from rat hole mining to large open-cast and under ground mines across different states, one has to closely examine what have been the benefits in the form of incomes, livelihoods and food security that women enjoy - whether rural or urban, dalit or tribal.

In India, the greater negative impact of mining has been experienced by tribal and dalit women as most largescale mining activities have taken place in the tribal and forest regions. The changes, as a result, in the economic lives of these two sections of women, has been fatal. Where dalit women are concerned their already marginalized status in the Hindu mainstream society became further degraded while the status of tribal women has been completely transformed from a life of dignity to one of humiliation and deprivation.

Problems from the mine-pits: Unending Web of bondage

Women are rarely employed in any of the formal/organised, public or private sector mines as mining is a highly male dominated activity and women are considered unfit for the hard labour of working in the mines. They are prohibited from entering the underground mines while only the men are eligible for employment. Most of the jobs of women relate to either administrative or to menial lower rung activities like sweepers, cleaners or attendants in the mining offices. The Indian dress of the women does not suit the masculine work in the mines and that only men are legally eligible for employment.

While the literacy rate for total Indian population is about 52.75% for male and 32.17% for female, the literacy levels of SC women is a mere 19% and for ST women is 14.50%. Especially in the mining rich states the literacy levels of women among ST's and SC's are abysmally poor. Rajasthan - 3.46%, Andhra Pradesh- 6.88%, Orissa- 8.29% and Bihar/Jharkhand - 11.75%. Such low literacy levels also speak for the abject poverty of women in these communities, which in turn shows their vulnerability to remain in exploitative forms of labour like mining. It also reflects the inaccessibility of any skilled employment for them, in the absence of any educational opportunities.

Labour Welfare Funds for Workers in Mining

The Mica Labour Welfare Fund Act 1946
The Limestone and Dolomite Mines Labour Welfare Fund Act 1972
The Iron Ore Manganese ore and Chromite Ore Mines Labour Welfare Fund Act 1976

The age-wise distribution of women mine workers in the country is an interesting indicator of women's exploitation in mining. In the age group of 5-14, women form 40% of the workforce, in the 15-19 age-group, they form 27% and there is a corresponding decrease as the age of women increases. While it is not to say that exploitation of male children is desirable, the fact that girl child labour is employed on a large scale in mining is a ground for serious concern.

Work Opportunities for Women Displaced by Mining Projects

Even among the communities who are displaced by mining projects, rehabilitation programmes of the government and the industry overlook the need for providing livelihood for the women who have been thrown out of their economic activities. It is always the husband, father, brother or son or any male relatives of the household who are eligible for employment in the mining companies. For example, a study by Walter Fernandes and others (Fernandes and Raj 1992: 141-142) reveals that in Orissa where the largest public sector mining company NALCO had promised to provide a job for every family displaced and, although 80% of the families affected were given jobs, only 8 women got employment. Although the T.N Singh Committee in 1967 stipulated that public sector mines and industries should give a job for every family displaced, invariably the jobs went to the men alone.

Where displaced women were absorbed into mining related activities, it is mostly in the small private or unorganized sector where women are the first to be retrenched, have no work safety measures, are susceptible to serious health hazards which also affects their reproductive health, and are exposed to sexual exploitation. Women displaced by mining and their livelihoods or migrant women who live in mining areas are 'self employed' in the mines. This is mostly illegal if not unorganised and the best term to describe their status is 'scavengers of mining'. They face constant harassment from the mining companies, police and politicians for eking out this meagre form of livelihood. Besides, as they are scavengers, they work in totally unprotected working conditions. Women in the gold mines of Kolar work with mercury and cyanide with their bare hands and are prone to accidents within the dank pools of water.

It is this shift from traditional economies where women had a relatively better control over their bodies and natural resources in their traditional form of livelihood, whether agriculture or collection of forest produce, to a life in mining, where they are pitted against prohibitory labour conditions, vagaries of the markets, and lack of any alternatives, that brings in an entire change in their livelihoods and social life.

Trends in Labour and Wages of Women in Mining

According to the Ministry of Labour's Statistical Profile of Women and Labour, in its Fifth Issue (1998), employment of women in open cast mines and above ground works has steadily declined between 1961 and 1993 while the overall employment in these areas has gone up during the period. The report says that this is indicative of the fact that female workers have been substituted by the male ones and also that the share of women in the total employment in coal mines has declined from 6.3 percent during 1981 to 4.05 percent in 1992. Similarly, in all the mines put together, the share of women workers was 9.8 percent in 1981 and has slid down to 6.65 percent in 1992. In addition, it also states that the women's participation in all industrial groups has gone up except for Mines and Quarries during the period between 1980 and 1989. Under the Mining and Quarrying sector, the percentage of female workers to the total female population has consistently declined from 1.02 percent in 1901 to 0.05 percent by 1991.

With regard to wages, the Ministry's data reveals that although average wages of mine workers in open cast and above ground mines increased sharply in the last three decades, there is a distinct difference in the increase between wages for men and that of women in the majority of the mines/states. This is attributed to the fact that women were employed mainly in the unskilled or low skilled jobs compared to the men. Besides, the Fifth Occupational Wage Survey found that women workers were not employed in Oil mines.

Percentage of Female main Workers to Total Female Population under Mining and Quarrying From 1901 to 1991 Census

Census Year Mining and Quarrying (%) 1901 1.02 1911 1.17 1921 1.17 1931 1.16 1951 0.78 1961 0.56 1971 0.05 1981 0.05 1991 0.05

Pariahs in the Organised Sector

The tragic paradox of women's labour in the organised sector is their highly visible presence as contract labour within the public sector mines. When employing women as daily wage labourers or bonded labourers, to perform the same tasks, their dress does not become a hindrance to the mining companies. When one passes through the stretches of coal mines or iron ore mines in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Orissa, one witnesses women labourers by the thousands employed in head loading, stone breaking, cleaning and other forms of daily wage labour where they are entirely at the mercy of petty contractors and have absolutely no work safety or security.

The Workmen's Compensation Act 1923

Payment of Wages Act
Minimum Wages Act
Maternity Benefit Act
Payment of Gratuity Act
The Employees State Insurance Act

Women workers in the organised sector have bitter experiences of trying to fight for minimum wages, paid leave during illnesses or pregnancies, improved working conditions, etc. Even when they are members of trade unions, they have found it difficult to make the issues concerning women workers a priority issue for negotiations with the management. Technical jobs are never given to women or any efforts made to train them for skilled activities either by the companies or the unions. Women are prohibited from applying for professional courses in mineral sciences or engineering which are a prerogative of the men alone.

In the organised sector, they have been the first to be retrenched after mechanisation was introduced. The largescale mines, which are shifting to technology dependence, have no scope for women's participation as they are illiterate, lack technical skills and face cultural prejudices. Where women formed 30-40% of the workforce in mining, they have been reduced to less than 7% and in the coal sector alone, to 4.05%. Schemes like VRS - the golden handshake - have proved a death knell to women. The Second National Labour Commission Report states that the percentage of female labour force in the organised sector is 1.6 (1999).

Women are the pariahs of the largescale mines. Their opportunities are only as scavengers or as 'payiris' as they are termed in Spanish, within the organised sector. Women living in mining communities eke out their livelihood by scavenging on the tailings and wastes dumps, often illegally, and are constantly harassed by company guards, local mafia or police. They are at the mercy of local traders for selling their ores. As they are occupied in 'illegal' mining activities, any accidents like mine collapse where they are killed or disabled, are most often hushed up by the families themselves for fear of police action or the company's wrath.

As Janaki Nair reports on her study of Kolar Gold Fields, "A gold mine has no official place for women, at least in underground work." ... "Several hundred women are engaged in a variety of jobs related to the mines: retrieving gold, pieces of metal, or coal from disused mill sites and cyanide heaps. They make the best of a mining town that has turned inhospitable."

Whether in the coal mines or gold or iron-ore or bauxite, where women have been displaced in large numbers, justice towards them in providing employment opportunities has never been considered where 'women's interests are subsumed into wider interests' and they have never been identified as 'a distinct group of stakeholders' as found in the field researchers of the mining companies themselves.

Average Daily Employment in Factories by Broad Age Groups, Sex and Industrial Workers

    Adults     Year Male Female Extraction of Crude Petroleum, Production of Natural Gas 1993 27 Nil Mining of Iron Ore 1991 14   Mining of Non-Metallic Minerals not elsewhere classified 1991 63 14   1992 370 9   1993 317 6 Other Mining 1981 272 11   1986 68 6   1991 16 Nil   1992 4 2   1993 20 4

The Small Scale Mines - the only resort for women

In the unorganised sector they are forced to work beyond work hours, even in advanced stages of pregnancy, have no leave or creche facilities, and are always under threat of being thrown out. In some of the quarries in Orissa, women are forced to work at night and are used for sexual abuse so much so that young girls from these regions are branded as 'spoilt' and not respectable for marriage. In the stone crushers, most women have tuberculosis and so are their infants who are brought to the work place and left to fend for themselves in the quarrying sites while their mothers are working. Even this work is only seasonal.

State Wise Distribution of Female Main Workers in Mining and Quarrying as per 1991 Census

States   Andhra Pradesh 42,354 Arunachal Pradesh 2 Assam 1,395 Bihar 22,256 Delhi 1,330 Goa 3,248 Gujarat 7,987 Haryana 570 Himachal Pradesh 75 Karnataka 23,655 Kerala 13,593 Madhya Pradesh 22,562 Maharashtra 16,740 Manipur 53 Meghalaya 725 Mizoram 27 Nagaland 26 Orissa 18,438 Punjab 3 Rajasthan 15,375 Sikkim 29 Tamil Nadu 11,646 Tripura 112

West Bengal

8,953 Uttar Pradesh
3,002 Union Territories
Andaman & Nicobar Islands
137 Chandigarh
6 Dadra and Nagar Haveli
30 Daman & Diu
24 Lakshadweep
Nil Pondicherry 3

The mining companies bring in cheap migrant labour, mostly male and sometimes female. Both types of women - those women who are originally from the mining area and those women who come as migrants - are equally vulnerable to the exploitation of the company staff, contractors, migrant male population and from the males within the communities who get highly influenced by the new social evils of external societies. The women mine workers are vulnerable to diseases like HIV AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases. There is a growing situation of unwed women as mothers, deserted women who are further humiliated and forced into giving in to the demands of the males in order to retain their wage labour in the mines and to bring up their offsprings.

While the largescale mining has no space for women, the small-scale sector absorbs them only as contract or bonded labour under highly exploitative conditions. Wages are always less than those for men, they do not get a paid holiday even one day in a week or during pregnancy or childbirth, no work equipment is provided, there are no toilets or work facilities. The women are exposed to the exploitation, physical and sexual, of the mine-owners, contractors and other men. They have to walk back miles to return to their villages and are vulnerable to assault on the way.

Occupational Hazards of Women Miners

The women working in the mines suffer from several occupational illnesses right from respiratory problems, silicosis, tuberculosis, leukemia, arthritis, to reproductive problems. They work with toxic and hazardous substances without any safety.

Whereas women could take their infants to the fields or to the forest earlier, women working in mines have to leave their children behind at homes, unattended. If they do manage to take the children, they have to expose them to high levels of dust and noise pollution, are susceptible to accidents due to blasting or falling into mine pits while playing, etc. The companies do not provide any facilities for their children like crèches or attendants to look after them except at the time of inspection when officials from the labour department visit them. Such inspections are a mere eye-wash as the officials are highly susceptible to bribes and rarely report the companies' poor working conditions and neither do they take any punitive action.

Most of the tribal and rural women working in the mines are seasonal workers as they also work as agricultural labourers. This is because most of the land is lost for mining and makes it difficult for them to get a sustained living from agriculture or from the forests. Neither is the work in the mines regular for the women, and therefore, keeps them shifting between occupations. This gives the mining companies ample opportunity not to provide minimum wages or permanent labour in the mines as they can blame the workers for irregularity of attendance.

Very few workers work till the 'retirement' age as a few years of labour in the mines, leaves them with terminal illnesses or debilitations which make them unfit for any kind of labour. When they leave the mines, they have no pensions or provident funds given by the companies. On the other hand, at the time of dropping out of work they are left with heavy debts due to repeated illnesses, medical expenses, unpaid holidays taken due to sickness, other domestic expenses which overshoot their incomes due to the low wages earned, etc. In order to pay up, they introduce their minor children into the mine workforce, thereby getting tangled into the vicious trap of unending mine labour for the next generations.

Retrenchment and Closure: Pushing women into more vulnerable forms of labour

It is also observed that where mining activities are abandoned and companies begin to scale down their operations, the men move over to other forms of occupations and it is here that mainly women are employed. The companies try to take the left over ore from the debris and tailings by providing wage labour to women for sifting, collecting, cleaning and loading activities. Also, when most of the men employed in the mines have died or are too ill to work in the mines any more, their widows and wives are given replacement of the jobs, usually in order to pay up the debts taken by the men. The women are well aware that their lives and health are equally short-lived, yet have no choice but to continue working in the mines. A very good example of this situation is seen in the Mica mines of Gudur in Andhra Pradesh and in the stone quarries of Rajasthan.

Mine closure always sounds a death knell to the lives of the miners and their families. In most situations, companies rarely have a mine-closure plan which is less distressful to its employees. Whether the companies are involved in down sizing labour for mechanization or for shutting down the company entirely, it is the women who first face the axe. Where families are dependent wholly on the male member's salaries or wages, retrenchment hits women the hardest. While the laid off men are occupied in negotiations, strikes and legal battles with their companies and unions, the loss of income leads to a highly critical situation for their families. The uncertainty and idleness drags men into depression, alcoholism and many times, to suicide.

It is the women who have to take over the responsibility of keeping the families out of starvation. Women who may not have been used to any form of physical labour in the past are suddenly forced to look out for work, whether land based or in the service sector. They go out of their homes to work as domestic workers, farmhand labour, factory workers, maid-servants, or take up petty trades. Desperation also forces them into prostitution in post-mining conditions. Children are pulled out of school as the miners' no longer can afford to pay their school fees and put them into menial jobs as cleaners in hotels, assistants in mechanic sheds, cycle repair shops, etc, for supporting their families.

Child Labour

A more serious social hazard is the employment of child labour in mining. They are cheap labour for the unorganized sector like in quarrying, stone crushing units, marble and masonry stone mining, transporting, head loading, stone breaking, and in some of the processing industries like marble products, slate industry, diamond cutting, etc. They often get into the mine labour force to supplement the low incomes of their families, to pay up the debts and as bonded labourers. As they are not in the official payrolls of the companies, the wages they receive are entirely dependent on the unscrupulous managers, supervisors and contractors who are 'kind' enough to hire them. While under 'training' they do not receive any wages and the period of training is left to the vagaries of the mine owner. In reality studies have shown that child labourers work faster and contribute better outputs but are paid no wages or inhuman wages. They are often physically, mentally and sexually abused and in India, where labour laws are lax, the government closes its eyes to the abuses of child workers while mining companies whether small scale or multinational escape all their crimes of child abuse.

The diamond mining industry, for example, employs a large section of child labour for its cutting and polishing industry. The condition of workers - hiravalas - in the 'sweat-shops' of the diamond cutting industry in India are tales of horror. Young persons between the ages of 18-25 who are mostly migrant labourers from the surrounding rural areas are taken in and are hired under extreme work conditions - dark ill ventilated rooms, highly degrading, poor wages, etc. Many young children and girls are employed for the nimbleness required in diamond cutting. The total wage rates amount to only 1% of the total cost of production of diamonds. Even global corporates like Rio Tinto and De Beers with all their declarations of respecting human rights, continue to purchase diamonds from India where child labour in diamond cutting and polishing is flourishing.

When such is the lack of interest or responsibility of large mining industries, the thousands of small mines which employ child labourers escape without punishment and inspite of all the widely reported stories of abuses on child labourers in the mining industry, they continue to be victimized. While the larger companies acquit themselves of these abuses on children by blaming our governments for not enforcing or monitoring labour laws strictly, the small companies silently escape with money and might at the local levels.

Conclusions and Critical Issues concerning women and labour in mining

When we look at a macro level of the economic context of gender in mining there are only two options for women in the present reality. They are accepted only in the small scale mines where our corrupt governments and irresponsible companies cannot be brought to book. Hence they have to live with the exploitation and discrimination even if protective the laws and policies towards women and children are brought into force. Secondly, they have barely any space in the large scale public/ private/transnational led mines which is inclusive of only males and machines. The mining industry's position on this issue is clearly reflected in the MMSD report which states how companies have tried to address the needs of women by providing neo-natal care or by helping establish community banks for small businesses.

The basic question here is, after completely throwing women out of their economic and livelihood roles for the sake of mining, how many women can be accommodated in this manner of providing small development incentives and schemes (which are also largely dependent on the 'magnanimity' of the company in working towards social responsibility) and in how many places can such experiments be replicated whereas, in land based traditional occupations, women had a basic economic position which was not given as a favour but is an important part of a larger economic situation where women are inclusive and without whose labour and contribution, the economy cannot be carried forward.

Some of the key issues on women and labour in mining are:

· Mining is a male dominated industry and is hostile to women's work participation in the mining sector.
· Privatization has shown negative impacts on women mine workers - it has led to more VRS, retrenchment and more women have been pushed into contract labour which completely lacks work safety and employment security. The labour statistics of the Ministry of Labour are clear indicators in the steady fall of women's labour participation in the minerals sector
· Most women mine workers are found in small scale mines and informal/unorganized sector mines where mining companies easily escape monitoring, have very poor checks on them in all spheres - whether implementation of labour rules and regulations, mine safety rules, environment protection or waste management all of which have direct impact on women and child labourers working in the mines.
· Most largescale private mining industries are highly mechanised and technology intensive which exclude women's participation in the workforce
· The incomes drawn by women as mine workers is economically and physically unsustainable and drags them into deeper indebtedness and bonded labour
· Lack of responsibility of mining companies towards protecting and ensuring proper health care for women mine workers has serious consequences on their health, both physical and reproductive which is a serious human rights violation by both companies and our governments.
· The economic roles played by women have to be studied in comparison between mining and pre-mining situations in order to draw perspectives on the economics of mining from a gender perspective
· The new mineral policy states the first right of priority for local communities for obtaining mining leases. Yet when communities apply for prospecting or for mining leases, which have women in their cooperatives or societies, they have most often been rejected.
· Labour laws have to incorporate and implement the legitimate participation of women in the public and formal sector mining and increase employment opportunities for women.
· Mechanization cannot take place at the cost of women, as it is women who are displaced from their lands for mining and not machines.
· An important question that cannot be ignored is, when our governments are not in a position to enforce laws related to women and child labourers, who takes the responsibility of monitoring and correcting the human rights abuses and low income levels of women and children in the mining sector?
· If mining has to take place, the policy has to seriously ensure improvement on the work safety, security and sustainability issues of women workers in mining. This means our economic policies have to first put into priority addressing the education, livelihoods, health, political participation, legal entitlements to lands, natural resources and employment opportunities for women.
· If mining has to take place, women from the affected communities should have equal opportunity for employment as the men since they equally lose their lands and traditional livelihoods when the mines come. India needs to provide a constitutionally legitimate R&R policy for all mining projects in the country which also seriously addresses this issue of women's labour.
· Before sanctioning of mining projects, the state should have a proper long term plan and assessment of the cost benefits of mining projects from the perspective of labour and livelihoods vis-à-vis pre-mining economies of the local communities and not merely make assessments based on macro indicators of economic growth like GDP. In other words, there should be a people-centred (which includes gender-centred) economic plan and not a market centred one particularly, in the context of mining.

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