The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Killer fire fans race for unit clean chit

What does it take for a company employing child labour to give itself a clean chit' All of Rs 25.

That is the cost of each ‘affidavit’ from leather and rubber units now flooding the state labour department office at Writers’ Buildings.

“We have got a large number of such affidavits from factories, particularly leather and rubber, over the past couple of weeks. This is unprecedented. Employers have gone on an overdrive after the fire in a leather bag-manufacturing unit in Topsia killed 11 workers,” said a senior official of the labour department.

Since the killer blaze on November 22, Metro has carried a series of articles on the sweatshops in town — from Topsia to Howrah — exploiting child labour in inhuman work conditions. Thousands of children below the age of 14 slog it out in such sweatshops for over 12 hours a day.

The labour department has decided to probe what it believes is a flurry of “false affidavits” — close to 100 within a fortnight — in a desperate bid by factory owners to prove their fair-play practices.

“Our teams visited three leather-manufacturing units in Topsia after the fire and served notices on owners of those sweatshops, asking them to provide the name and age of each worker. Now, so many units are submitting affidavits claiming they don’t employ children below the age of 14,” said additional labour commissioner N. Hasan.

“We are planning to conduct random raids at these establishments to check the veracity of the claims of employers. The team will be accompanied by a doctor to verify the age of children employed there,” he added.

If sweatshop owners are in a flap, notaries in lower courts are in a flurry, thanks to the requests pouring in from employers out to prove that their labour force is aged 14-plus.

A labour department official said armed with such an affidavit, sweatshops owners could escape the Rs 20,000 fine and three-year-jail term for employing child labour.

“It is not the job of a notary to check the veracity of their claims. The onus is on the labour department to raid these establishments and bring the violators to book,” said a lawyer at Alipore court.

“Most children come to work in these units from the rural areas and are not aware of their date of birth. The employers take advantage of this and obtain an affidavit,” said a labour department official.

The department recently slapped cases on some restaurant owners, after conducting raids, for employing minors.

“The fact is that little hands continue to toil in city factories. We are putting up posters asking people not to employ children below 14 in hazardous jobs,” said state labour secretary Subesh Das.

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