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close this bookLow-Cost Ways of Improving Working Conditions: 100 Examples from Asia (ILO, 1989, 190 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the document1. Sanitary facilities
View the document2. Facilities for beverages and meals
View the document3. Recreation, child care, and transport facilities


Welfare facilities are an essential part of good working conditions. During the working day, a worker needs to drink water or some other beverage, to eat meals and snacks, to wash his hands, to visit the lavatory, and to rest and recover from fatigue. Changing rooms and special work clothes may also be necessary.

Good welfare facilities contribute not only to the welfare of workers, but also to production and better relations. If workers are denied facilities to meet their needs, problems will eventually result.

The cost of welfare facilities is usually lower if the enterprise provides them than if workers pay for them individually. Repair and up-keep of welfare facilities is often ignored but very important.

This chapter gives examples of provision of these basic facilities. It shows how enterprises can help workers at low cost. The examples range from sanitary facilities and provision of drinking water and canteens to recreational and other facilities. All of them were reported to have had very favourable effects on workers and on production.

1. Sanitary facilities

The workplace should have good sanitary facilities. Clean toilets, washing facilities and shower rooms are important. In almost all countries, the provision of these facilities has been made obligatory through laws or regulations. It is necessary to provide a sufficient number of such facilities and to keep them clean. For example, in Indonesia, it is prescribed to have one toilet at a workplace with less than 15 workers; one toilet for every 15 workers in workplaces with less than 100 workers; six toilets in workplaces with more than 100 workers; 12 toilets in workplaces with more than 200 workers; and six more toilets for every extra 100 workers. Urinals may be provided for men. Toilets should be separate for men and women. In addition, one wash basin is needed for every 30 workers.

These sanitary facilities are necessary for workers' well-being and to prevent disease. Well-maintained sanitary facilities help to improve productivity because healthy workers are more efficient and there will also be less absenteeism.

If work is hot and dirty or involves chemicals, it is necessary to provide shower or bathing facilities and good changing rooms.

Unfortunately, sanitary facilities are often neglected. They are often far from the worksite, insufficient in number and poorly maintained. Even though in many cultures people tend not to talk about toilets, these basic facilities are very important and need particular attention.

In general, improvements in sanitary facilities can be undertaken at low cost. When workplaces are built, good sanitary facilities can be included in the plan with a relatively small additional cost. It is often cheaper in the end to use materials which are durable, easily cleaned and quick in drying, such as tiles. Arrangements can be made to clean toilets and washing facilities frequently and maintain them in good repair at low cost.

Case 82: Cleaning toilets

In a small engineering factory with about 25 workers in Madras, India, the toilets for workers were in an unhygienic condition. Rubbish and cigarette butts were scattered around and the toilets were often clogged. The manager tried to persuade the workers to use the toilets properly, but found it difficult. As a solution, he made a special arrangement among the workers themselves, dividing them into four groups and asking each group to be responsible in turn for cleaning the toilets each week. At the same time, the manager provided a cigarette bin made from metal in each toilet.

The cost incurred was practically nil. Tools and other equipment for cleaning were already available. The bins were manufactured using scrap material. The manager proposed giving a monthly award to the group which could best keep the lavatory in good condition. This also helped change the attitude of the workers in maintaining clean toilets.

Figure 125: Instruction on the wall to arrange four groups of workers to clean the toilets in turns.

Figure 126: One of the factory toilets cleaned and in good order, with a cigarette bin.

Case 83: Repair of sanitary facilities

Sanitary facilities were in a bad state in a textile mill in Sri Lanka, which employed about 100 men and about 150 women in three shifts. The toilets were broken and clogged and the flushes were often not working. The floors and walls were broken, the smell was disagreeable and the doors could hardly be closed. Some of the toilets could not be used at all for a long period of time. The increasing number of employees in the mill further aggravated the situation. The displeasure among the workers grew to such an extent that it resulted in a go-slow and hence a decrease in production. Considering the number of toilets which were not working, it was clear that the regulatory standard of one toilet for every 25 male or female workers was not met.

The management agreed to provide sufficient sanitary facilities: for men, three toilets, five urinals, three wash basins and an additional tap; and for women, five toilets, five wash basins and an additional tap. They also agreed to provide ceilings for the women's toilets and to repair all the toilets, urinals and wash basins. New doors which could be locked were provided. The floors and walls of these facilities were repaired and the walls were white washed. A labourer was engaged for each of the two shift periods between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. to clean the toilets.

The repair and buildings of the toilet facilities pleased the workers tremendously. There was better morale and more co-operation with the management. The cost for the repair of roofs, ceilings, walls, floors and toilets, the replacement of some toilets and wash basins and the colour-washing of walls amounted to about US$ 480. The employment of two labourers cost US$ 40 per month each.

Figure 127: Wash basins repaired and better maintained, with the walls repaired.

Figure 128: Toilets provided in sufficient number and with clean wash basins.

Case 84: Waste bins in toilets

In a pump manufacturing factory which employed 25 workers in Madras, India, the toilets were not clean. The walls were stained and cigarette butts often remained for days. When the manager improved the lighting of the workrooms by painting the walls and ceilings white, he also painted the walls of the toilets in the factory. He assigned to a particular employee the job of cleaning the toilets regularly.

In addition, he put metal waste bins in all the toilets. The white walls and waste bins changed the image of the toilets. The cost was minimal as the paint was left over from that prepared for the whole factory and the waste bins were made from waste materials.

Figure 129: A toilet painted white with a newly made waste bin.

Case 85: A changing room

Workers in an engineering enterprise in Sri Lanka did not have the facilities to change from their street clothes into working clothes and to store them. There were 75 workers in all. On several occasions their street clothes were soiled and money was stolen. This caused displeasure among the workers.

When an inspector visited the factory, this was discussed in the presence of both management and the workers. It was agreed to convert a storeroom close to the mealroom and sanitary facilities to a new changing room. The room was cleared, repaired and washed by a few workers. Seventy-five cupboards which could be locked were installed. Lines were provided for hanging work clothes after the day's work. Each worker was given a separate cupboard and had to purchase a padlock to lock it.

The cleaning and repair of the room cost about US$ 40. The purchase and installation of cupboards cost approximately US$ 320. The indirect cost in terms of wages of workers who assisted in the provision of the changing room and the installation of the cupboards was about US$ 20. The management noted that the provision of the changing room also contributed to better relations among workers and co-operation with the management. Favourable effects were also seen by increased production.

Figure 130: A changing room with cupboards, with padlocks for all the workers.

Case 86: Toilets with washing facilities

In a garment factory in Jakarta, the toilets and washing facilities were insufficient in number and poor in quality. The toilets were often clogged. Repair was always slow. There was no running water to wash hands after using the toilets or after work. The workers often had to queue during breaks due to the small number of usable toilets.

To improve their hygienic conditions, the manager decided to provide tiles for the toilets. Tiles were used not only for the floor but also for the walls. Water tanks were installed when the tile work was completed. A small plastic waste bin was provided in each toilet. The cost was about US$ 350 for the tile work and for providing water taps. The workers, mostly female, welcomed the clean toilets. The manager felt that the change also had a favourable effect on the personal hygiene of the workers.

Figure 131: A toilet with a washing facility and a waste bin.

Figure 132: A toilet covered with tiles. A waste bin is also provided.

2. Facilities for beverages and meals

Facilities for beverages and meals are basic necessities. No worker can remain productive without drinking clean water or beverages or taking an adequate meal.

Drinking water is essential for all types of work. Especially when working in a hot environment, much water is lost in the form of sweat or evaporation from the skin. Water loss in a hot climate can easily amount to several litres per shift. Workers, if not provided with drinking facilities, will have to make arrangements themselves or leave the workplace quite often looking for water.

When only unhygienic water is available, this can lead to frequent disease. If workers become dehydrated, they rapidly tire and become less productive. Therefore clean water should be provided in sufficient quantities near the worksite. Such water can be obtained from special purchases in containers, urban water supplies, wells or rain. Water obtained from wells or urban water supplies should be boiled or filtered if its quality is not certain. Cool drinking water should always be provided. In particular, water containers should not be left in the sun or in a hot place.

In many cases, it is the local practice to provide tea or other beverages. This is very desirable, but it does not replace the need to provide safe, cool drinking water as well. The volume of liquids which the worker needs is much larger than one or two cups of tea, especially for hot or strenuous work.

Facilities for meals can be provided in many ways. Enterprises employing more than 100-200 workers should have a canteen. Smaller enterprises can provide a simple canteen or make arrangements to provide meals with an outside agent. Cooking facilities can also be useful. If a canteen is too expensive, a separate lunchroom should be provided. Meals with balanced, nutritious food help maintain health and productivity.

Facilities for beverages and food can be made available at relatively low cost. Examples in this section include provision of cool drinking water, a tea corner, canteens using existing facilities or offering subsidised meals, delivery of packed lunches and arrangements for clean eating places.

Case 87: Cool drinking water

In a medium-sized steel rolling mill in Calcutta, India, about 50 people were directly engaged in rolling mill operations. Due to the heat and heavy workloads, these workers perspired excessively. However, no potable water was available near the mill to replace their water loss. Most workers felt the inconvenience, and it was feared chat dehydration might affect the pace of work.

On learning the benefits of providing cool, palatable drinking water in steel mills, the management decided to provide water vessels with taps at the workplace. Two covered stainless-steel vessels with taps, two stainless-steel pots fitted with extension rods, two stainless-steel glasses and a wooden stand were purchased. An attendant was given the job of serving the drinking water to mill operators. At each shift the attendant would fill the vessels with cool drinking water from a water cooler of the canteen. The pots with the extension rods were used to distribute water among the workers. Any of the workers could also go to the vessel and get water in the stainless-steel glass from the tap and drink the water without contamination. The attendant was responsible for keeping these articles clean.

As the workers consumed water quite often, even one to two glasses of cool water every 20 minutes at peak hours, they appreciated the management's efforts. The workers were also recommended to make up for loss of salt by taking an adequate meal. This arrangement helped reduce the occurrence of heat disorders.

The cost of the articles was about US$ 210. The wages of the attendants amounted to about US$ 140 per month. It was estimated that the time for walking to obtain drinking water was saved to the extent of about 20 minutes per worker per shift. As a skilled worker's monthly wages varied between US$ 80 and US$ 120, the investment seemed worthwhile.

Case 88: Providing filtered drinking water

In a medium-sized food products factory in Thailand, workers would drink water carried to the workplace in bottles or directly from water taps. The quality of drinking water was doubtful.

The manager attended a training course on improving working conditions and productivity for small and medium-sized enterprises and learned that provision of clean drinking water was essential as a basis to improve working conditions. At this course, he saw examples of drinking water facilities from other local companies and decided to provide similar facilities in his own enterprise. When he compared prices for such facilities, he found that filtering facilities were not particularly expensive. He purchased equipment for filtering drinking water and keeping it cool. It cost US$ 145. This was placed near the workroom where most workers were working. All the workers welcomed the manager's action.

Figure 133: Water cooler with filtering device.

Case 89: Provision of a tea-break corner

In a medium-sized engineering plant in Indonesia, workers had no place to have tea and snacks during breaks. There were two 10-minute breaks a day, but the workers had to stay near the production lines.

A 7.5 square metre space in the corner was designated as a gathering place during the tea breaks. The corner was partitioned off and equipped with a table and benches. It could accommodate 12 persons. The cost was nil as all materials were taken from waste materials. The partitions were constructed by the workers themselves.

Figure 134: A tea-break corner created by providing partitions around it.

Case 90: A canteen using existing facilities

The closest available place to eat was about 1.5 kilometres away from a foundry in the Philippines employing 30 workers. The workers were habitually late in returning from lunch and were hot and tired as well. Productivity in the afternoon was low. It was therefore decided to provide a canteen.

The management carried out a study and came up with a construction plan for the canteen. It was built over a two-week period in an area within the existing factory premises. The area was about 20 square metres, including seating capacity for 19 and a small kitchen. Workers were able to pay for meals through a wage deduction.

Materials, construction work and canteen equipment were estimated to cost a little over US$ 400. Recurrent costs were low. As a result, there was a considerable increase in productive work time. An improvement in labour-management relations was noticed. The production increase was estimated to be over US$ 100 per month.

Case 91: Subsidised meals available at a food stand

In an engineering factory in Thailand, most workers had difficulty getting their meals because few restaurants were located in that area. There were about 300 workers operating in three shifts. The management decided to utilise canteen facilities built several years earlier but which remained unused. The management invited an outside agent to sell food at low prices, with the factory paying for gas, water and electricity and providing rice. The price for each dish was US$ 0.12, with free rice.

The morale of the workers increased, and relations between the management and workers improved significantly. The direct cost for the canteen was nil as such facilities were already available. Recurrent costs amounted to about US $80 per day for the 300 workers.

Figure 135: A food stand for selling subsidised meals.

Figure 136: A lunchroom revived by the introduction of the food stand.

Case 92: A lunchroom

In an engineering enterprise with about 50 workers in Sri Lanka, the workers ate their lunches at various places on the shopfloor. An unused room was provided as a lunchroom. About US $30 was needed to clear the room and add tables, chairs and washing facilities. About two work hours per day were required to keep the room clean.

This separate eating facility not only solved a problem for the workers but also meant that the work areas were much cleaner. The problem of scavenging was reduced.

Case 93: Supplying tea and snacks

A precision engineering components manufacturing unit in Bombay, India, was faced with production time loss due to overstaying whenever employees went out during tea breaks. There were two such breaks a day for the unit's 50 workmen and 10 staff members. The number of employees was less than the minimum indicated in the law for required provision of canteen facilities within the premises. Therefore, the employees had to go outside for refreshments. Private tea stalls were located far from this company in order to cater to the needs of many other small units. In spite of close supervision and repeated warnings, the situation did not improve.

The owner of the unit discussed the problem with the employee representatives. It was decided to provide suitable space for tea breaks with necessary furniture and kitchenware. The employees' representatives collected subscriptions and bought the basic materials. The items were priced on a 'no-profit no-loss' basis which was less than one-third of outside prices. While the employees decided to form their own roster for the preparation of tea and snacks, the management allowed two employees at a time to do canteen work on rotation basis during their working hours.

The total cost incurred by the company to provide a kitchen platform, furniture and kitchenware was less than US$ 1,200. There was no recurring expenditure for the company except the two hours of work by two workmen per day which was equivalent to approximately US$ 2 in terms of wages.

Figure 137: A space for tea breaks with furniture and kitchenware.

This worked out to be quite successful. The employees were happy because of the low prices and felt relieved of the inconvenience of going out for tea and snacks especially during the summer and monsoon seasons. The company saved labour costs which were otherwise lost due to overstaying after breaks. This resulted in a 10 per cent increase in production.

Case 94: Arranging for delivery of packed lunches

In a publishing company which employed about 30 workers, workers often walked home for meals and were late and tired when they returned.

By providing a small loan of about US$ 200, the management was able to arrange for packed lunches to be delivered to the enterprise. The workers paid about 15 per cent less than the usual retail cost of the lunches. Production increased, and at the same time a 50 per cent reduction in overtime work occurred.

3. Recreation, child care, and transport facilities

Enterprise-based welfare services not only include directly work-related services, but also those aimed at amenities for everyday life outside working hours. They include child care facilities, recreational facilities and transport. What an enterprise can do in these respects may be limited, but these facilities, if available, can greatly help create the feeling that management is interested in the workers as people. In fact, not only large enterprises but also many small and medium-sized enterprises provide these facilities in various forms.

As an example of such facilities available at very low cost, recreational facilities may be mentioned. Many workers enjoy spending their time in sports or other recreational activities during their lunch break or after work. This is healthy and increases the spirit of friendship. It helps workers feel that they are attached to the enterprise and have common interests as fellow workers. Recreational facilities are often very inexpensive. A basketball hoop or volleyball net in a courtyard, or board games, may be all that is necessary. Smaller enterprises can benefit perhaps even more from these facilities as a greater proportion of the workers can participate.

Dormitories, child care facilities and transport may be provided depending on the number of workers, the location, the work schedule and other factors. They can effectively support the recruitment of workers, especially when these are not readily available.

Special care must be given to the quality of these facilities. Child care facilities should be clean, hygienic and well-ventilated. When transport facilities are provided through better co-ordination with public transport, private bus services or otherwise, they should be adequate and safe.

Case 95: Sports facilities utilising available space

In a foundry which employed 30 workers in the Philippines, a high turnover rate among predominantly young male workers was a problem. It was attributed to the work climate and monotonous conditions during breaks. This became clear when a production supervisor interviewed workers about the reason for the rapid turnover. The average length of employment was only four months, implying a turnover rate of 300 per cent a year. Both past and present workers suggested setting up recreational facilities.

At a meeting, it was decided to provide a basketball court and a pingpong table. This could be done easily as space was available within the foundry premises. All personnel were urged to participate in the activities during work breaks.

The total cost for the construction of the court, the table and equipment was estimated to be US$ 67. The recurring cost is estimated at US$ 25 per year for equipment replacement and repairs.

As a result, the turnover rate reduced remarkably. In fact, it was no longer a problem. Better relations between management and workers also resulted from this joint activity. An improvement in worker motivation was observed. Savings in training costs for new workers and in recruitment advertisements, estimated at US$ 400 a year, more than offset the required cost.

Figure 138: Table tennis corner with a table and equipment.

Figure 139: Basketball court inside the factory premises.

Case 96: Board games

In a furniture manufacturing shop at the rear of a large market in the metropolitan area in the Philippines, 27 workers were employed. They were mostly male. Nine out of these 27 preferred to stay in the factory during weekdays as they resided 10-30 kilometres away from the factory. They went home during weekends. By living within the factory premises, they were able to save on transportation time and expenses. To while away the time, they often played cards, gambled or drank liquor. Noise at night and quarelling often affected the quality of work on the following day. The work climate was also affected.

To improve the work climate, the owner bought a pingpong set and requested the residing workers to make a pingpong table. This was done in one day. In addition, these workers made an improvised billiards set and table. The two facilities immediately became prevailing leisure activities. The owner's son and daughter also joined in.

Figure 140: An improvised board game facility.

The direct cost incurred was US$ 10 for the pingpong set bought by the owner. Materials used for building the pingpong table and the improvised billiards were from surplus wood and wood cuttings in the factory. The estimated cost was about US$ 10 for these materials. Thus the direct cost totalled US$ 20. Indirect costs included the carpenters' time during regular working hours.

After setting up these facilities, the workers co-operated in a move to avoid trouble at night. Card playing and drinking were minimised when the workers started using the available game facilities to pass their time. Relations between management and workers also improved as workers were appreciative of the efforts for their welfare. An unexpected indirect effect was an increase in productivity by about 10 per cent.

Case 97: A reading corner

Very few rest areas were available for workers at a garment factory in Thailand with 700 workers. The management discussed the possibility of providing adequate rest areas for the workers. One of the ideas proposed setting up a reading corner in the company's air-conditioned reference document room. This suggestion was immediately adopted.

The workers were asked to participate in the “reading corner programme”. Shelves were provided and tables and chairs were arranged in a corner of the room. Magazines and novels were collected and put on display. Most of them were donated by the workers themselves. The magazines and books were labelled by worker representatives. Any worker could read at the table or borrow reading materials by noting down his or her name in a notebook.

Figure 141: Reading corner with shelves, tables and chairs.

The company did not incur any expenses. The equipment was available from the stock of unused furniture and the books were donated. Though it was not possible to quantify the psychological response of the workers, it was very positive.

In a large jute mill in Burma, the welfare committee decided to set up a library. The workers were requested to contribute a small amount equal to approximately US$ 0.12 each towards capital expenditure for stocking books, magazines and newspapers. The welfare committee undertook the operation of the library by contributing US$ 60 a month from the committee's budget. The management provided maintenance of the library premises and lighting expenses. To be convenient to the first and the second shift workers, the library opened from 10 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to 3.30 p.m. on working days.

Figure 142: Racks in the library and some workers looking for reading materials.

Case 98: Committees to look after recreational facilities

A metal cleaning chemical processing unit in an industrial area in India was located about six kilometres away from the main town. It had about 66 employees. There was a high rate of absenteeism and late arrivals. As a result, the work schedule was often disrupted. This led to low productivity.

The personnel officer undertook detailed inquiries through personal interviews with family members of habitual latecomers. It was revealed that there were no recreational facilities in nearby areas. Some of the employees were inclined to join certain social clubs where they picked up bad habits like drinking or gambling. The officer also felt that the management-labour relations should be improved.

Four committees were formed to look after four recreational facilities. These facilities were provided by the management within the factory premises: a volleyball court; a carom game; a table tennis set; and a reading centre. Each committee was responsible for the day-to-day running of the corresponding scheme. All these facilities were available to the employees free of charge before and after their shift and also during the lunch break. The management staff also joined in the activities.

The direct cost incurred in the purchase of sports goods and games equipment amounted to US$ 660. The recurring expenditure on technical and general interest magazines cost US$ 20 per month.

The committees' work was appreciated by the management, and by workers and their families. The management gained from a decrease in various time losses and the resulting increase in efficiency. The workers enjoyed a variety of leisure activities. Late arrivals were eliminated and there was a drop in absenteeism to a quite reasonable level. The workers' families also welcomed the step as the employees were tempted to join in these recreational activities rather than to go to social clubs for which a substantial amount of money had to be paid. The management exercised strict control in the factory premises so that it was impossible to indulge in gambling or drinking. Thus the living standard of the workers improved. The participation of management staff in recreational activities also had favourable effects on worker-management relations.

Case 99: Provision of a creche

A rubber products moulding plant in Singapore which employed 900 workers, was located several miles from town. Seventy-five per cent of the workers were women. The plant had been affected by a very high turnover rate of its largely female workforce. Many of these workers were young women who resigned as soon as they got married. They said they had no choice, as the worksite was located in a new town and therefore they had no relatives living nearby to care for children.

A personnel officer from the plant consulted with the trade union and individual workers concerning the provision of a creche for babies and young children so that mothers could continue to work. Married women workers were sent a simple questionnaire as to how many pre-school children they had and whether they would like to participate in the scheme for a creche. Upon receiving an encouraging response, the personnel department took action.

A large room within the premises, away from the noisy and dirty sections of the factory, was set aside for the purpose. Furniture, feeding facilities and playroom equipment were provided. Some volunteer women workers with young children were included in a roster so that the women collectively looked after their own young children. The nurse of the plant was asked to give a few training sessions on child care to the volunteers and then to supervise the running of the creche. Each child brought to the creche for the first time was examined by the nurse to make sure that the child did not have any diseases, especially contagious ones. Mothers were allowed to go into the creche only after washing their hands and making sure that they were free from dust and other contaminants.

The direct costs included approximately US$ 500 for whitewashing and painting by the workers themselves, purchase of equipment for preparation and sterilisation of feeding implements, preparation of a corner with sufficient privacy for breast-feeding, a refrigerator and toys. The indirect costs included the time of the nurse and volunteers working to make the creche ready. They were estimated to be about US$ 1,000.

The recurrent direct costs amounted to approximately US$ 300 per month for the 40-50 children using the creche. Recurrent indirect costs included the time of the volunteer workers, but these did not amount to more than two per cent of the total wage bill.

The enterprise saved costs which would otherwise have been spent in advertising, interviews, recruitment and training of new workers because of the previous high turnover. There were also savings because of a lower sickness absence rate. Now mothers did not absent themselves from work to look after their children. It was estimated that the total costs saved equalled the direct costs incurred after less than one year of operation.

Case 100: Transportation for workers

In an industrial company in Singapore located far away from town, a great deal of time was lost because of late arrivals. Buses were provided to pick up workers along designated routes.

In another factory in Singapore, it was found difficult to persuade workers to go on night shift until buses were provided to bring them to and from work.

In an airline office situated about 20 miles from Colombo, the management found their staff were coming late for work, taking leave as often as possible and appeared tired. There were also many errors in their work. Two buses were purchased to bring the workers to and from work. The workers appeared much happier and fitter. Errors were also reduced.

In Bali, an enterprise started a co-operative to enable workers to acquire their own motor-cycles. This proved highly successful and led to a dramatic drop in the number of workers absent or late for work.

Figure 143: A motor-cycle stand in an enterprise in Bali.

In a furniture factory in a remote district of Thailand, employees faced considerable difficulties as they had to walk to and from work for quite long distances. A bus was found to be unsuitable, as the employees all lived away from the main roads. The company arranged with the local bicycle shop to provide credit to all its employees for purchasing bicycles, standing as their guarantor. The plant manager also briefed all employees who bought bicycles on road safety. Bicycle racks in the worksite were also provided by the company. The employees appreciated this scheme, which provided bicycles for many who otherwise could never have acquired such convenient transport on their own.