As the world celebrated rights of workers to a dignified living on this Labour Day, the “indefinite strike” of several thousands labourers of Delhi Municipal Corporation, demanding regularisation of jobs, better salary and working conditions entered its 21st day.
Speaking to The Hindu, the striking workers say they are not asking for luxury but recognition for their contribution for the better upkeep of the city. The problem, they highlight, is the “complete absence of any dignity in the professional relationship with the corporation” which ensures that they remain at the “receiving end” of the municipal officials.
Mukesh Yadav, Director (Press and Information), South Delhi Municipal Corporation, however, dismisses the allegations and says barring two or three demands, the civic bodies have accepted most of the others though it would take a few months to implement them.
Veer Ashok Anjana of Akhil Bhartiya Safai Mazdoor Morcha is not convinced with the claim though. Waving their movement’s pamphlet, he says: “Had the Municipal Corporation been serious about our problems, we would not have gone on the strike in the first place. Even this time, all we have got are just verbal assurances from the Labour Department officials.”
One striking labourer says: “We work in extremely difficult and pathetic conditions. It is a question of basic and dignified livelihood. When will the corporation provide us our basic rights? Our very material existence remains on their mercy. ” The current agitation is being spearheaded by Swatantra Mazdoor Sanyukt Morcha, the joint forum of 15 unions of labourers working in the three Delhi Municipal Corporations. Most of them are sanitation workers, sweepers and guards working in municipal schools.
The main bone of contention between the striking workers and the municipal bodies is regularisation of jobs. There are over thousands of workers doing innumerable jobs coming under the jurisdiction of civic bodies. But besides very few permanent posts, most of the workers are daily wagers and recently the contract system has also been introduced. They regard contract system “exploitative” and have been demanding its revocation.
Ram Raj, a leader from Delhi Municipal Workers Union, says that there are hundreds of youth who have been working on daily wages as sweepers and sanitation workers since the last 12 years. “We want some of them to be regularised according to a certain timeframe. The municipal body had agreed to this demand but the officials are dragging their feet,” he alleges.
The civic officials have categorically made it clear that not all workers can be regularised. “The process of regularisation of daily wagers against vacancies has been expedited. We have proposed to do it every time there is some vacancy. But everybody cannot be regularised,” says Mr. Yadav.
One striking worker, who has been working since over a decade, adds that although three circulars have been issued concerning regularisation in 2009, 2010 and 2011, it is yet to materialise. “Officials have been talking about the issue since last one decade. In fact, every time there is an election we are told that soon we would be regularised. But post elections, nobody wants to talk about it,” he complains.
Some of the basic demands include medical and housing facilities and eight-hour working shifts. At present, thousands of daily wagers have no access to medical facility despite being exposed to occupational hazards and disease-causing germs.
“Recently three sanitation workers of the West Zone of the South Delhi Municipal Corporation died apparently due to diseases contracted while working,” says one striking worker from South Delhi Municipal Corporation. “As a guard at MCD schools we badly need eight-hour working shifts. At present we have to work for days on end at times. Often we do not get our weekly offs,” he adds.
Reacting to workers’ grievances, one civic body official says that the proposal for medical facility has been finally cleared by the municipal bodies but it will take a few more months for the relevant infrastructure to be put in place.
Though protesting, the workers cannot afford to stop working as it would threaten their survival; so the 15 workers’ unions are taking turns to sit on dharna, currently going on just outside the headquarters of the civic bodies. In the absence of “concrete response” from civic bodies, the workers have “no option but to continue with the agitation”, says Mr. Anjana.