Indian Diamond Processing (Cutting & Polishing) industry, though the world’s largest, is facing multiple grave problems. Labor conditions in the sector are rapidly deteriorating. The industry used to employ more than 1 million workforce earlier. However, the number stands today between 500,000 – 710,000 – around 500,000 jobs have been lost.
Recession had a huge impact on the sector
60% of small units were closed down and workforce’s income declined by 44% during recession. This led to 90% workforce reducing their food consumption and 20% withdrawing their children from school. More than 50 cases of suicides of diamond workers were reported in Surat (India’s diamond processing hub) alone. The scenario, however, is not just a recession effect but extends and deteriorates even in the post-recession phase.
Low wages and almost non-existent employee benefits are a commonplace
Majority of workers are paid less than INR 10,000 (Less than USD 160) per month. According to a UNDP report, less than 4% of workers get PF (Provident Fund), only 2% get health insurance, pension and educational allowance and almost no one has access to ESIC (Employee State Insurance Corporation scheme).
Long working hours prevail
75% of workers in cutting and polishing units in India work more than 8 hours a day, with the figure even touching 14 hours for some. It is common to work about 10-12 hours a day, while the remuneration is not commensurate with the efforts.
Low level of education persist
75% workers in the Indian cutting & polishing units are educated below 10th grade and most of the units do little to change this. Only 33% of the workers are enrolled in formal training programs.
Working conditions are ghastly
Working conditions even during pre-recession time were gruesome and have gone even worse since then. Basic facilities like drinking water and toilet were not available to many workers. 80% of diamond cutters and polishers still live in a rented house. According to a research paper, Diamond workers in particular, in Surat, an already high-risk district, are most vulnerable to HIV. A Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) report has mentioned ‘High’ prevalence in informal units and ‘Medium’ prevalence in formal units for Occupational Health & Safety including ventilation, sanitation, housing, evacuation/ safety and Decent work among the social risks for the sector.
Conditions get worse for Casual Labors
Smaller units rely on Casual Labors who do not have access to any kind of social benefits and earn significantly less than permanent workers. Post recession, 61% deterioration happened from ‘regular’ to ‘casual’ status of the cutting and polishing sector workforce.
Aging workforce is another challenge
Within 5 years, 30% of workforce will reach retirement age, while less than 10% of young workers want to be a diamond cutter and polisher.
Unless the industry works toward reversing the situation, such horrid labor conditions in the Indian diamond processing industry may result in disastrous repercussions.