“I clean your streets every day. Does it matter to you that I don’t get paid?” asks Gangamma, a pourakarmika.
Fed up of their problems being ignored, contract pourakarmikas in the city are planning to stay away from work from March 8, celebrated around the world as International Women's Day.
In August 2016, the State government had promised to hike their wages from ₹7,000 to ₹14,439, but not one of them has seen the money. The government notification also said pourakarmikas would be provided drinking water, toilets, changing rooms, brooms, masks and other cleaning equipment, as well as regularisation of all contract workers by March 2017. But, all these promises remain on paper.
Vanaja, who has been working as a pourakarmika in Kengeri for 15 years, said, "We were promised arrears but no one saw the money. If we don't get salary for months, how will we put food on the table?"
When one of them falls sick, they end up losing a day's pay. They work even on national holidays.
Many have not received their salary for months. Lakshmi (name changed), who works in Domlur, has not been paid for three months. "When we question the contractor, they tell us to leave and find another job," she says.
Prakash, who drives a waste collection vehicle, suffered from slip disc due to the heavy lifting involved in his work. "I lost three months’ pay and had to take a loan of ₹50,000 for treatment," he says.
Gangamma said that even if she has a fever, it meant losing a day's pay.
Maitreyee Krishnan of Manthan Law, who has been fighting for their rights in court, says that many a time, contractors siphon off funds meant for pourakarmikas. "Pourakarmikas are entitled to ESI and PF, but in many cases, the contractor pockets the money. The BBMP has to realise that the contract system is unnecessary and gives the latter too much leeway," said Ms. Krishnan.
In the run-up to March 8, protests and marches are being planned at Town Hall, Austin Town, Malleswaram, Indiranagar and Koramangala.