Pourakarmikas caught in tug-of-war between BBMP and contractors

Allege threats and verbal abuse by contractors who are being phased out

September 26, 2017 08:07 pm | Updated 08:07 pm IST

Pourakarmikas have staged several protests demanding payment of their wages by contractors and other various demands.

Pourakarmikas have staged several protests demanding payment of their wages by contractors and other various demands.

Although the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) had to implement direct payment for pourakarmikas and phase out the ‘contractor Raj’, the ground reality tells a different story. Repeated attempts to bring in transparency by implementing biometric attendance and conducting a survey on the number of pourakarmikas have been stonewalled.

But it’s not just residents who are being held to ransom by contractors. Thousands of pourakarmikas allege that threats and verbal abuse by contractors who want status quo. “Garbage contractors have been pressuring pourakarmikas to continue working under them,” alleges Maitreyee Krishna, executive member of the BBMP Guttige Pourakarmika Sangha.

According to Sangha members, many workers were physically stopped from working during the flash strike by contractors on Saturday. Workers were stopped in Vignanagar, Garudacharpalya, Shettihalli, T. Dasarahalli, Hegganahalli, Rajarajeshwarinagar, Adugidu and Vasanthnagar. "In Vasanthnagar, the mestri physically blocked the workers and tried to prevent them from working," alleged Maitreyee Krishna.

According to the Sangha, in Dasarahalli Zone, the mestri and contractor warned workers they would not be paid salaries if they continue with their work.

Early this month, pourakarmikas in some wards in Koramangala were made to sign on a blank sheet, which was later used to show their support for the contractor system. "All of us signed because we were told that the application would help us get our PF payments," said a contract pourakarmika, adding, "We don't want contractors, as they do not give us our dues. Of three months’ salary, they keep two months’ earnings and give us only the rest,” she added. She has not received wages for July and August.

Several pourakarmikas have not been paid wages for the last few months as contractors claimed the BBMP had not cleared their bills. "On Saturday, contractors told us not to go to work. Last month, contractors told us not to work claiming they were not being paid by the BBMP," said Rajeshwari (name changed). She has been on the job for the last 12 years.

Joint Commissioner (SWM) Sarfaraz Khan admitted to difficulties in implementing the ground-level audit. "Once the audit is completed and biometric attendance put in place, we will be able to implement direct payment of salaries to all pourakarmikas," he said.

New uniform for pourakarmikas

The BBMP has finalised a new uniform for pourakarmikas working on its rolls. SWM expert committee member Sandhya Narayan said the new design takes into account the concerns raised by pourakarmikas. "At present, the uniform is being provided by contractors. Many pourakarmikas do not use the gloves and masks, as they are of the wrong size or uncomfortable to wear," said Ms. Narayan.

The proposed uniform will be colour coded based on the nature of work. Workers collecting wet waste will wear green colour uniforms, dry waste collectors blue and sweepers will don a rust brown uniform. Workers would be provided winter wear and rain coats as well. Pourakarmikas will be given tokens based on which they can select uniforms from designated stores according to size.

The uniforms have been designed by Foley Design Studio, headed by Michael Foley, one of Bengaluru's well-known designers.

For men, the uniform will consist of a T-shirt and track pants and for women, a jacket to be worn over their saris. The upper portion of the gloves will be made of a breathable material, and the inner side of Nitrile, which is more resistant to tear than rubber.

"Dry waste collectors handle acidic waste and rubber gloves get cut easily. The new gloves will be more long-lasting," said Ms. Narayan.

Instead of plastic masks, soft fabric masks, which can help cover the mouth, will be provided.

She added that the new uniforms would be distributed once the biometric attendance is put in place and they have an accurate idea of the number of employees.

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