Absenteeism in industry has been a persistent evil in India. It is not uncommon even
in some industrially advanced countries like the U. S. A. and the U. K. T h e author, in this
article, makes a comparative study of absenteeism in industry in India and abroad and makes
suggestions for minimising this evil, which deserve the attention of all industrialists.
Mr. V. Lakshminarayana Rao is a senior student of the T a t a Institute of Social
T h e problem of absenteeism in industry
In calculating the rate of absenteeism, the
faces almost every country in the world. In procedure adopted differs from mill to mill
India, its magnitude is far greater than in in the same place and from place to place
the western countries.
in the same industry. For example, in the
cotton textile mills in Bombay, if a worker
Absenteeism is generally understood in is absent and a substitute is taken in his
different ways by different persons. It is place, as far as the permanent worker is
commonly understood as an employee or a concerned, he is treated as absent. But in
group of employees remaining absent from the mills in Ahmedabad, if a substitute is
work either continuously for a long period taken for the permanent worker who is
or repeatedly for short periods. But in the absent, he is not treated as absent for
industrial field, absenteeism conveys a calculating the rate of absenteeism. Such
different meaning, and is expressed in divergencies in methods of calculation exist
different ways in different countries or in-
from place to place and factory to factory
dustries. In simple language, it is the total in the country. This makes a lot of
difference and hence it is not possible to
number of workers absent expressed as a have a clear and comprehensive or com-
percentage of the total number of workers parative view of the rate of absenteeism in
industry for want of a uniform basis.
In more technical words the same may
be said to mean "a ratio of the number
Secondly, no scientific method is adopted
of production man-days or shifts lost to in India, for investigating t h e rate of
the total number of production man-days absenteeism in any particular industry, on
or shifts scheduled to work."
a nationwide scale or even in a localized
unit, as is done in the western industrial
For purposes of calculation, an employee countries. In the West, research bodies
is considered scheduled to work, when there like the National Industrial Research Board
is work available and the employee is aware in England are making special enquiries
of it, and when the employer is fully aware into the causes and incidence of absenteeism
t h a t the employee will be available. In in a selected area or industry within a
calculating absenteeism, public holidays, specified time. Similar investigations have
and other days when the factory is closed are been m a d e in other countries like C a n a d a
excluded. W h e n the employee takes time by the Canadian Munitions and Supply
off on a scheduled working day, he is con-
Department and in New Zealand by the
sidered to be absent. Also, when the worker Industrial Psychological Department, of the
remains away from work, without informing Scientific Industrial Research Department
the employer, he is treated as wilfully absent. and the results of their investigations along

with their suggestions for improving t h e
conditions are published. Such investiga-
tions into industrial labour conditions in
I n d i a were hitherto carried on, though not
on very scientific lines, on only two occa-
sions, once by the Royal Commission on
Labour in 1931, a n d then in 1946 by t h e
L a b o u r Investigation Committee. On both
these occasions, the investigations were so
comprehensive, and t h e field of enquiry
Of the three places in t h e Bombay State,
was so wide that little time and space the rate of absenteeism is very high in
were devoted to the subject of labour Sholapur in all the three periods and it
absenteeism in Industry,
is lowest in Ahmedabad. This is due to
According to the Royal Commission, no the difference in method adopted in calcula-
industry was able to collect or furnish any ting the rate of absenteeism in the three
data about the causes or rate of absenteeism. centres.
Even when such data were collected in
Woollen Textiles.—The rate of absenteeism
some cases as absenteeism due to sickness is equally high in the woollen textile industry
they were inadequate again, as the details also in Bombay, when compared with the
of sickness etc. were not available. T h e figures elsewhere. It was 15.2 percent in
Royal Commission also noted t h a t a large Bombay in 1948, while in the same year
percentage of absenteeism was being classi-
it was 11.68 percent in the U.P., 10.63
fied under "other causes" or "without any percent in Mysore and 14.8 percent in
acceptable reason." But during the period Kashmir.**
of the Second W a r , more care seems to
have been taken to collect data on absen-
But it is not known whether or not a
teeism in Industry.
uniform method is followed in computing
the figures in all the centres.
Absenteeism In Cotton Textile Industry.
A high rate of absenteeism prevails in the
Iron and Steel Industry.—The figures for
cotton textile industry in India. This industry
Iron and Steel Industry reveal t h a t the
is mostly localized in the three centres of rate of absenteeism is high in Bengal a n d
Bombay, Ahmedabad a n d Sholapur in the Bihar, where it was 13.9% in 1949, whereas,
Bombay State, Madras, M a d u r a and Coim-
in Madras, it was 6.9% in the same year.
batore in t h e M a d r a s State and to a minor This industry is mostly concentrated in
extent in Nagpur in M a d h y a Pradesh a n d Bihar and Bengal due to the proximity of
K a n p u r in the U t t a r Pradesh. T h e following the available raw materials. Attempts have
tables gives a comparative idea of the rate been m a d e to bring down the percentage
of absenteeism in cotton textile mills in a of absenteeism in this industry but they
few centres of the country in the three seem to have produced practically no result
years 1939, 1944 a n d 1948: —
so far.
*Figures for 1939 and 1944 are taken from the Labour Investigation Committee Report
and for 1948 from the Indian Labour Gazette 1948-49.
1 This figure is for the year 1943.
** Indian Labour Gazette, June 1949, p. 883.

T h e figures of absenteeism in some very high—in Bihar it was 34.4% in 1947.
industries are classified on the basis of their T h e most important reason as explained
causes. T h e following table shows absen-
by Dr. R. K. Mukherjee in his book, " T h e
teeism classified according to their causes: —
I n d i a n Working Class" is, that there is a
general shortage of labour force in the
mines and labour does not remain steady.
Workers constantly move from mine to
mine in search of better wages.
O t h e r
Social O t h e r
Causes Causes
Mica Mines.—Absenteeism in mica mines
is also very high. Even though no proper
records are maintained in any of the mines,
the Labour Investigation Committee has
enquired and found out that about one-
third of the total labour force remains
absent on the day following the pay-day,
and about 10 to 1 5 % remain absent for
two or three days. It was found t h a t
It is interesting to note from the above absenteeism in mica factories of M/S Chre-
table that of all the causes "leave other stein & Co. was as high as 25 per cent in
t h a n holidays" accounts for nearly 5 0 % of 1943. The rate of absenteeism is still higher
absenteeism. Sickness comes next and works in the mica mines in Madras State—34.4%;
out to less than 331/3%.
it is higher among the non-resident workers
In Bengal and Bihar, labour is mostly during the rainy season. In mica factories
recruited from the neighbouring villages and in Madras, the rate of absenteeism varies
also other States like the U.P., M.P., and between 10 per cent and 20 per cent from
the Punjab. Absenteeism has been found one factory to another. But in Rajputana,
to be greater during the harvesting seasons, the problem is not so great, except during
when they go to their villages for sowing, the monsoon. Here labour is not mobile
transplantation and other agricultural opera-
and there is not m u c h of drink evil as in
tions. T h e workers that come from other Bihar and Madras.
States go to their native places twice or
Tea Plantations.—The rate of absenteeism
thrice a year and remain absent for about in plantations is equally high, especially in
ten to fifteen days on each occasion.
the tea gardens of Assam. When compared
Coal Mines.—-The rate of absenteeism is to other industries, the rate in tea planta-
high in coal mines especially among the tions stands second in order, while that
miners and loaders. Generally agricultural in the mines takes the first place. It is
and tribal people of the neighbouring also seen from the following table* that
villages are recruited for work in the mines. absenteeism increased during the war years.
As they are more attached to their land,
they absent themselves periodically from
this work. These agricultural workers are
found to have a natural dislike for work
underground. T h e rate of absenteeism is
*Indian Labour Gazette 1938-39, 44-47.

V . L A K S H M I N A R A Y A N A R A O
In plantations, absenteeism, it has been From the above statement it can be seen
found, is generally higher in summer t h a n that the rate of absenteeism is higher in
in other seasons.
the Madhya Pradesh than in other States.
Cement.—In cement factories figures of
Dockyards.—Among the dockyard workers
absenteeism vary from State to State as in Bombay, Calcutta, Cochin and Vizaga-
shown below for the year 1949 for 11 patam, the rate of absenteeism is very
m o n t h s * : —
considerable as shown by t h e table below: —
M a d r a s — 6 . 4 %
M a d h y a Pradesh—11.5%
IN 1946-47**
T h e percentage of absenteeism in these
cases has been found to be very high in Bombay
J a n u a r y '49 in M . P . and Bihar and falls
H.M.I. Dockyard
to half by the year end. But it is reported
Bombay Steam
that in all the four States there is a higher
Navigation Co.
rate of absenteeism in the months of Calcutta
India General
January and July.
Naval & Railway
C o .
Ordnance Factories.—The figures of
absenteeism have been collected in different
ordnance factories since the war, as the Vizagapatam Scindia Steam
Navigation Co.
Government realised the necessity of finding
out the rate of absenteeism and its causes
and effects, in order to minimise the same,
T h e percentage is highest in Mazagaon
and increase production. T h e following Docks in Bombay. This may be due to
figures will give an idea of absenteeism in the Pali system existing here—that is t h e
this industry and the percentage under each workers are sent on forced leave by turns,
cause during the year 1948 to 1949: —
whenever there is shortage of work. T h e
range between maximum and m i n i m u m is
Percentage of Absenteeism in Ordnance
far wider in Scindia Docks at Vizagapatam,
Factories in 1948-49s
which is 20.4% in January 1947, a n d 3.2%
in October 1947.
T o t a l
It is not known whether a uniform
Holidays Causes
method has been adopted in computing
the figures of absenteeism in all the dock-
yards. It does not appear to have been
followed; the low figure for October '47
U t t a r
was due to the labour strike in t h a t month.
If the strike situation is not taken into
M a d h y a
consideration, the figures as they are do
not speak of the facts.
*Ibid, 1949.
§Indian Labour Gazette 1948-49.
**Indian Labour Gazette, April 1949.

So far, the rate of absenteeism as it
The factors within the factory that are
exists in different industries in different found responsible for the high rate of
States of India has been shown. It is clear absenteeism are—(1) Long hours of work;
from the few tables given that absenteeism (2) Bad working conditions; (3) Efficiency
varies from 10% to 15% in factory industry and general contentment of the labour
and it is 25% in plantations and about 40% force; (4) Boredom which affects the younger
in mica mines. On a careful scrutiny of workers; (5) Lack of co-operation between
the various tables of absenteeism given management and labour and between groups
above, it is seen that in general absenteeism of workers.
is considerably higher in North India than
in the South.
The investigating Board suggested that
the worker's health, physical and mental,
It may here be profitable to compare should be safeguarded, as they found that
the figures of absenteeism in industries in absenteeism in most cases was caused by
India with those obtaining in industries illness. Secondly they also suggested im-
in the highly developed Western countries. provement of transport facilities, besides
Unlike the investigations in India, enquiries creating satisfactory working conditions in
into absenteeism and the causes thereof in the factory.
the Western countries have been made on
more scientific methods; and the remedies
New Zealand.—Similar enquiries into
suggested are generally carried out by the absenteeism were conducted by the Indus-
industries, Government and private bodies. trial Psychology Department of the Scientific
Industrial Research Department in New
Absenteeism in U.K.—The industrial Zealand and found that the rate of absen-
Research Board under the auspices of the teeism in factories was 6.5% for men and
Medical Research Council carried out an 11.5% for women due to all causes.
investigation into the problems of absen-
teeism in the United Kingdom. The extent
Australia.—An enquiry was conducted into
of this enquiry was in all 60 factories, big the matter in 1942, when 16 private factories
and small, employing about 75000 workers and 10 Government factories, employing
and found out the following results: —
about 20,000 workers were studied. In this
method of enquiry, leave and authorised
holidays were excluded and absence of all
Peace Time — 5%
W a r Time — 6 to 8% for men
other categories was taken into account.
,, ,, — 10 to 15% for women
The rate of absenteeism according to this
It was also found that women absentees enquiry was 7% for men and 13% for
are twice as many as men and married women. The absenteeism was higher among
women three times more than the unmarried women workers.
ones. Another important fact revealed by
Canada.—An enquiry was conducted in
the enquiry is that the rate of absenteeism Canada in 1942 to find out the rate of
is double in larger and new factories than absenteeism, by the Canadian Munitions and
in smaller and old establishments. Secondly Supply Department.
the rate again is higher among women
workers. Thirdly, the rate of absenteeism
The field of enquiry covered 35 factories
is higher in the case of workers, whose engaged in war work and they were repre-
living places are far away from the factory. sentative of the whole of Canada, both big

and small factories employing 12,000 to
Both these factors indirectly affect the
100 workers, the average being 2,500. The morale of other workers in the job. The
average rate of absenteeism was 6.4% in foreman or production manager may ask
October 1942, and 6. 9% in November 1942. the worker who is present to do the job
Here also the results indicated that the rate of the absentee, instead of taking a substitute
was higher among women workers; in one in order to avoid the increase in the cost
factory it was 24%.
of production. In such a case, the workers
will resent it and this creates bad feelings
The rate of absenteeism is found to be among them. Therefore, industrialists con-
comparatively lower in the western industrial sider that absenteeism is a persistent hind-
countries, as seen from the statistics given rance to production.
above for a few countries. This may be
perhaps due to the industrial consciousness
An examination can now be made of the
of the workers there.
various causes of absenteeism, which is so
high in India.
Effects of Absenteeism.—Absenteeism
causes a twofold loss. Firstly it affects the
Sickness.—The most important and com-
worker in his earnings; and secondly, it mon reason that is given by an employee for
affects production. The worker, by absent-
his absence from work is sickness. The
ing himself from work, earns less than what general health of the industrial workers is
he should and thereby his standard of living very low due to malnutrition, low wages and
is lowered. When he is unable to maintain hard manual work for long hours. His
a proper standard of life, his efficiency is general vitality is sapped in the factory and
lowered, consequently the quality of the when he returns home he has to live in a
article produced also is affected.
crowded, ill ventilated house in an insanitary
Secondly, production in the industry is
Secondly, the occupational diseases like
retarded, due to the frequent and repeated silicosis caused by inhaling of quartz dust
absence of a number of workers in each by the miner, in a mica or coal mine and
department. It may not be the same fluff by the sider and the waste cooly in a
worker or group of workers. It is not cotton textile factory, affect the respiratory
possible for the industrialists or the works system of the worker and shortens his span
manager to handle the situation with the of life. In order to save himself from the
help of untrained substitute labour, whose fatal end, or to cure himself of the disease,
standard of production and efficiency are he worker frequently absents himself from
not on a par with those of the experienced work.
and trained permanent workers. Therefore,
the employer has to maintain a permanent
Accident is another important cause
auxiliary labour force in the factory, to which accounts for absenteeism. Generally
replace the absentees. But this will increase
in every factory where statistics of absen-
the cost of production. Even if the latter teeism are maintained, accidents and sick-
course were to be adopted it gives an ness are treated under one head. Lack of
advantage to the employer to 'play off' proper knowledge about the use of the
workers and force some of them to go on machine, and improper or lack of protection
compulsory leave, as is usually done in many
to the machine are responsible for the high
of the textile factories.
incidence of accidents.

Accidents also occur due to bad working perature and other factors often lead to
conditions. Managements have to rectify exhaustion and illness and consequently to
these unsafe conditions. During 1943, in absence from work.
the shipyards in the United States, it was
estimated t h a t the total man-days lost were
Lack of understanding between the worker
20 per each disabling injury, which were and the management or between worker
estimated as 1,02,500.
and the foreman, and worker and worker
causes mental and psychological tension.
T h e rate of absenteeism caused by sickness W h e n the worker is having an internal
and accident is about 2 5 % of the total conflict, he loses all interest in his job and
absents himself from work. So the Labour
Officer or management should see t h a t
Hours of Work.—Even though the Factory there is complete harmony and understand-
Act stipulates the hours of work as 48 per ing between one section and another of
week and 8 to 81/2 hours per day with rest workers, and try to maintain harmonious
breaks, many industries do not observe this relations in the factory premises.
rule. Even under the present stipulated
time, the worker is exhausted and unless he
Job placement is very important from the
takes sufficient rest, he is not fit for work point of view of absenteeism. If the worker
the next day. M a n y employers often engage is placed on a job for which he is not trained
the same workers for working overtime also. properly, or is psychologically or physically
T h e worker too, not knowing the conse-
not suitable, then he will not take interest
quences, takes up overtime work for im-
in his work. This leads to discouragement,
mediate economic advantage. It has been fatigue, accident and finally to absence.
investigated and found in the West that
workers working for longer hours per day
Lack of proper medical aid and first aid
are more frequently absent t h a n those t h a t is also responsible for absenteeism. If the
work shorter hours with intervals for rest. worker, for every minute ailment or injury
has to go elsewhere for first aid or medical
Fatigue.—This is caused by arduous work help, he will be absent from his job. Simi-
and compels a m a n to take rest. When he larly when any member of his family, wife
neglects to take rest, during night, he is or child, falls sick, and if there is no proper
forced to absent himself from work the next arrangement to provide them adequate
medical help, he remains absent from work.
Boredom.—The monotonous and repeti-
Lack of such welfare facilities as canteens,
tive job causes absenteeism. T h e worker nutritive food, snacks and tea, rest rooms,
should be allowed to change over from one sanitary conditions etc., will surely increase
job to another to get relief from the mono-
tony as is often done by the drawer and
r e a d i e r in the drawing Department of the
Low Wages.—If wages are below the sub-
textile industry.
sistence level, the worker will be forced to
seek subsidiary job in order to supplement
Unsuitable working conditions, like bad his earnings. In such a case, he frequently
lighting and ventilation, extremes of tem-
absents himself from his main job.

Besides these various factors, there are also tives at home and also work on her job in
others which lead to absenteeism in industry. the mill.
Some of these are discussed below.
In India as well as in other countries
Bad housing condition is one of the most little has been done to meet the situation
important factors. A contented labour and bring down the rate of absenteeism.
force that lives near the work place will be So far the employer is providing few welfare
an asset to any industry. If the worker has
menities like medical aid, housing, transport
to walk a long distance early in the morning
and marketing facilities.
and late in the evening, he feels exhausted
and often desires to take rest at home. In
Precautions no doubt are being taken to
such a case, during the rainy season, the prevent and reduce the incidence of
worker fails to go to the factory, for want accidents. Measures such as fencing the
of facilities. And lack of proper transport machinery by railings are being adopted by
facilities also affects a worker's attendance employers in many cases for the safety of
at the place of his work. Further lack the workers. Though these precautions are
of marketing facilities near the living place taken by the employers, yet very few are
also is reported to partially cause the workers, giving necessary instructions to the workers,
especially women workers, to absent them-
when they are first employed, about the
selves from work. Besides these, festivals, handling of the machinery and precautionary
religious occasions, marriages in the family, steps they have to take in the course of the
etc., keep a worker away from his work performance of their duties.
Every employer has provided medical
Another important factor is the desire for facilities as required by the Factory Act.
rest and enjoyment. The Indian worker In some mills, first aid dispensaries are
feels that he needs rest and without it he established and in others regular medical
thinks that he will fall ill and so he forces officers and Safety Engineers are appointed
himself to rest by feigning sickness.
to co-ordinate the work of treatment and
prevention of accidents and injuries.
Drink evil is another important cause for
absenteeism. In Bihar and Madras, The Factories Act laid down the provision
workers in the mining areas are generally for the weekly holidays, rest pauses and
addicted to drink, and the day after pay leave with pay in order that the workers
absenteeism is the highest as many visit the may have adequate rest and enjoy their
toddy shop, get drunk and fail to report social life. But it is found that in practice,
to duty the next day. The weaving com-
the worker is permitted to take leave, not
munity in Sholapur is also reported to be according to his need, but to suit the con-
addicted to drink and therefore frequently venience of the employer. So the workers in
absent themselves from work.
many instances are forced to go home with-
out applying for leave. This causes more
Absenteeism among married women is of unaccountable absenteeism. In some
frequent, because they have to play the cases, the worker does not inform the
duel role, one as the bread winner, and employer, even when he is leaving the job
secondly as the housewife. She has to in preference to another. So for some time
attend to children, husband and other rela-
at least he is treated as absent in one factory

though he may have started work in absenteeism in the right perspective. W h a t -
ever measures are adopted by employers in
this direction are done, not with a view to
In mica mines and coal mines, there are mitigating this problem but only to satis-
no facilities whatsoever, to prevent accidents fying demands of the workers and only to
occurring daily due to the falling off of the meeting the provisions of the Factories Act.
sides and the roof. D u e to inadequate light-
T h e problem is not the complete elimina-
ing, especially in mica mines, workers have tion of absenteeism for that is impossible
to grope in the dark with small candles in of achievement, but is prevention and
h a n d ; when once these candles are blown control of it.
out, they cannot proceed further with their
work. Many accidents occur due to bad
T h e following few suggestions may be
working conditions. Workers should be considered to reduce and control absenteeism
provided with electric torch lights in the in industry.
T h e employer as well as t h e worker
Little is being done to improve the social should have a complete understanding of
condition of the worker and his family. In the difficulties both have to face in industry
cities, they live in crowded slums where and should co-operate with each other. T h e
welfare activities are carried by the relation between the worker and the fore-
municipal authorities just in name.
m a n must be friendly. T h e foreman must
have a humanitarian and sympathetic
In case the State or the employer or the attitude towards the workers under his
community provides a decent standard of charge, and should not irritate them. The
living conditions, with all the amenities of employer should select such trained super-
recreation, health, sanitation and education visory staff who are capable of handling the
for children, within easy reach of the worker
situation in the right way.
and his family, he will not have any occa-
sion to worry when he is on his job. He
Whenever a worker is absent, the Per-
will concentrate on his work, which will sonnel Officer or his staff should visit the
increase his efficiency and thereby produc-
worker at his place of residence in a friendly
tion and his earnings as well.
approach and find out t h e cause of his
absence and give all necessary advice a n d
In some industries, the employer is giving help. He should not hurt the worker's
profit sharing bonus. In some, cases, this feelings and give him scope to think that
bonus is paid on attendance basis, as in he is doing all this in the interests of the
the T a t a I r o n and Steel Company at management. For this, every factory should
Jamshedpur. Surely this may be an incen-
employ trained personnel staff with modern
tive to the worker. But experience of such outlook. The worker should be made to
bonus systems as attendance bonus, produc-
feel that he is one of the entire organiza-
tion bonus, efficiency bonus, etc., has shown tion and has equal responsibilities in the
t h a t it only corrupts the worker and has not production and working of the industry.
improved him, nor has it in any way reduced
He must be m a d e to feel t h a t he is con-
or solved the problem of absenteeism.
tributing a valuable p a r t in t h e promotion
So far no attempt has been m a d e in of the interests and welfare of his nation.
India to consider and solve this problem of
A study of a worker's attitude towards his

work, fellow workers, supervisors and the perly. T h e employer or the community
effect of external factors on his attitudes is should give him facilities to borrow in cases
very important if the rate of absenteeism of emergencies at low rate or no rate of
has to be reduced.
interest by starting co-operative credit socie-
ties and also by giving loans from his pro-
Selection of a right type of person for vident fund.
the right job is most important in an industry.
T h e Personnel Officer must know the job
Adequate marketing facilities within the
requirements and how to select the right reach of the worker and his family will also
m a n . T h e r e are many misfits in every help to bring down the rate of absenteeism.
factory. D u e to improper and wrong Co-operative Consumer Stores should be
selection, a person who will be more suitable started nearer t h e working class localities.
to work in a particular job, may be em-
ployed on some other job in which he finds
T h e worker should be diverted from the
no interest and thereby frequently absents drink evil, . which accounts for a large
himself from work. After employment, the percentage of absenteeism. As there is no
personnel department should study and other way of amusement and diversion pro-
investigate with the help of the Engineer vided by either the employer or the com-
or foreman whether the worker is suitable munity or the State, he straight away goes
for the j o b ; if not he should be immediately to the toddy shop. T h e introduction of
changed to another suitable job.
prohibition alone will not solve the problem;
he must be given some other amusement
T h e wage level should be raised, so that or activity to recreate his mind and body
the worker has no financial worries when and relieve him from fatigue and emotional
he is on the job. If he has to think of tensions. T h o u g h it is the responsibility
how to pay his medical bills and for the of the State, the employer and t h e com-
education of children, and such other p r o -
munity should help him in this by providing
blems, he will not attend to his work p r o -
recreational facilities during his leisure hours.