Demands to give permanent employee status to the 38 anti-mosquito workers, 31 casual labourers not considered

“They have not given us a pair of footwear in years. And, here you are asking me about protective gloves,” fumes Ammalu Baby, a sanitation worker with the City Corporation, who has been cleaning up the city streets for the past 26 years.

“As per rules, the authorities should distribute new gloves, protective mask, raincoat, boots and medical kit every year. Also, women should be given saris and men, khakis. The last time that happened was three years back. But we have never stopped clearing the waste from the roads. There were times when we had to buy brooms with our own money,” she says.

The sanitation workers are supposed to be given medical checkups every six months. This has also not happened.

Ammalu is one of the 626 contingency workers employed by the local body.

The contingency list includes sanitation workers, workers carrying out anti-mosquito operations, gardeners and drivers.

The employees, except the anti-mosquito workers and casual labourers, were made full time employees back in 1998.

When the Corporation had just 50 wards more than a decade back, there were 921 contingency workers on its rolls.

Now, the wards have increased to 100. In the same period, the number of workers has reduced by 300. No new appointments happen when retirements or deaths happen. The workload has increased manifold, the workers say.

When contacted by The Hindu, the Corporation’s Health Officer C. Ummuselma said that these issues have yet to come to her attention.

“We will surely look into this and take appropriate action soon. As far as I know, the workers can take medical help from any of the government hospitals in the city and their bills are promptly reimbursed. We have also distributed washing soap to all the sanitation workers,” she says.

The neglect is limited not just to the distribution of protective gear, but in salary scale as well as retirement benefits.

“A government order issued at the time when the contingency workers were made permanent, had stipulated that contingency workers should be given the same rights as other workers. But even their salary scale is unscientifically structured that their retirement benefits are very less. Even when they apply for leave, it is not sanctioned and their meagre salary is cut instead,” says V.R. Vijayakumar, district general secretary of the Municipal Contingency Workers Association.

Complications of the uterus, caused by lifting heavy waste baskets, are common among the sanitation workers. Recently, a worker applied for 45 days leave following a uterus removal operation. But it was not granted as only employees from clerical level grade have such a facility.

“There is a problem in the way their grades are changed too. Some of them stay in the same grade for years. Most of them are not educated and so are not aware of their rights,” says Mr. Vijayakumar.

Even when the State government sanctioned Rs. 10 crore out of a total of Rs. 37 crore in outstanding pension amounts in the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation recently, it had said that these funds should be used to pay only regular employees, not contingency workers.

The demands to give permanent employee status to the 38 anti-mosquito workers and 31 casual labourers have not been considered.

“There are people who have been working for more than 10 years and are yet to be made permanent. The government is planning to appoint 300 more contingency workers soon. We have requested them to set aside 100 of those vacancies to the temporary anti-mosquito workers, casual labourers and those who lost their jobs after the closure of the Vilappilsala plant,” says Mr. Vijayakumar.