Vanaja S., a pourakarmika working on contract in Banaswadi area, was shocked when she was given Rs. 2,300 as salary in March. After a long and hard struggle, their salary was raised to Rs. 2,600 three months ago. There was no logic to it shrinking by Rs. 300, except that the contractor had a change of heart and felt that he was “overpaying” them.
In Bangalore, around 10,000 contract pourakarmikas employed by 32 contractors in 198 Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike wards are paid anywhere between Rs. 1,600 to Rs. 2,300, depending on the whim of the contractor.
This is the state of affairs even as the revised minimum wage notification of 2010 entitles a pourakarmika to a daily wage of Rs.194. This adds up to over Rs. 5,000 in a Grade-A city like Bangalore. In fact, what most pourakarmikas are presently paid is below the minimum wage notification of even 2006, by which a worker is entitled to Rs. 3008 per month (Rs. 2,574 after deductions).
BBMP Guttige Pourakarmikara Sanga, which has already filed a petition before the Labour Commissioner and the Karnataka State Women's Commission, is now planning to approach the Karnataka High Court demanding that their jobs be made permanent, since they are “perennial and permanent” in nature.
“This has already been done in Mumbai,” said Balan, senior labour lawyer who is handling the case. As opposed to the contract workers, permanent pourakarmikas on the payroll of BBMP are paid Basic, DA and other allowances.
“More than 90 per cent of pourakarmikas working in BBMP are Dalit women migrants from Nellore and Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh. Some are from Tiruvannamalai district of Tamil Nadu. Their exploitation is at several levels,” said Gowri, convener of Samanata Mahila Vedike, which is organising these women workers on contract.
Muniyamma, who works in Kammanahalli, says they are not given the mandatory safety gear like slippers, gumboots and gloves. “They pay us Rs. 20 per month to buy brooms, which is inadequate because a broom does not last even a week,” she said.
“The contractor, through the mestri, pays us at our place of work as if we are beggars. Why can't they open bank accounts and pay us like they pay other workers with dignity?” asks an indignant Ms. Vanaja, who is among the few workers to have studied up to Pre-University Course.