While there has been plenty of praise for sanitary workers for their role in the COVID-19 pandemic, but in reality, these workers have been denied compensation, food, transport facilities and even preventive gear.
The Chennai Corporation Red Flag Union has accused the administration of refusing to include the deaths of sanitation workers due to COVID-19, in the list of front-line workers. The move results in the denial of the Rs 50 lakh compensation which had been announced for workers in the fight against the pandemic. The state government has also announced a cash relief of Rs 2 lakhs to workers and employees who contract the SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Aside from not paying the infected workers, contract workers are being denied wages during the quarantine period by the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC). Unions of sanitary workers across the state have planned a protest on June 27 due to the prevailing discrepancies.
‘Notify Deaths of Workers’
The union held a protest in front of the Ripon Building on June 19, the structure which houses offices of the GCC administration. Their demands included the registration of workers deaths and compensation.
The union leaders also demanded that the corporation immediately notifies the death of the workers and initiate procedures for paying compensation to their family members. However, the union has accused the corporation of inaction.
P. Srinivasalu, General Secretary of the Red Flag Union, told NewsClick that nine workers of the GCC had died “in the fight against the viral infection, but the corporation has not notified the deaths, a move which will deny the family members of compensation announced by the government. By doing so, the corporation is hiding facts from the public,” he added.
The union has submitted a list of workers who have succumbed to the infection to the corporation commissioner, along with their lab reports and testimonials. However, the union accused the corporation authorities of paying no attention to the plight of sanitary and malaria workers.
Contract Workers Denied Compensation, Wages
The corporation has employed about 30,000 sanitary workers, out of which only 6,000 are permanent workers. The contract workers, who form around 75% of the workforce, are denied any compensation, even if they contract COVID-19 at work. They are not even paid wages when away from work due to being infected. The corporation had announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakhs for front-line workers.
“We have demanded that the corporation gives compensation to the contract workers as well. It is inhuman to deny them wages as they are discharging their duty for the corporation. The GCC is the principal employer and it should not shy away from the responsibility of taking care of its workers. The contract workers should be paid the wages and the compensation as per the guidelines,” added Srinivasalu.
Workers Denied Tests
The state has increased the number of tests it conducts per day after experts repeatedly demanded for the same. However, sanitation workers of the GCC, are being denied tests being on the front-line, alleged the workers union.
“The administration is apprehensive of the increasing number of cases and workers testing positive will further add to their problems. By doing so, the corporation is exposing the poor workers to the deadly infection. The family members of the workers are also at risk due to the GCC denying tests for the workers,” he said.
The reduction in workforce across the city has forced the corporation to seek workers from other districts. “But no one has shown the willingness to come forward and work in Chennai. With so many workers having tested positive for COVID-19, the workload of other workers has increased”, added Srinivasalu.
Supply of Protective Gear
Another important demand of the workers was for the supply of sufficient protective gear. Only after the protest were they supplied with face masks on alternative days and hand-gloves on a daily basis. However, their demand for the availability of water and sanitisers in the workplace is yet to see the light of day.
“While the government continues to ask its citizens to wash their hands after frequent intervals, front-line workers are being denied the facility. The workers in Zone 1 and Zone 3 are not even being provided with food. The transport facility is even more pathetic, with 80 people being forced to travel in a single bus. At times, workers are travelling in vehicles used to carry garbage,” alleged Srinivasalu.