After being showered with words of praise for their work during the pandemic, the sanitation workers in Chennai are facing the axe in their jobs. More than 740 sanitation workers, the frontline warriors in the COVID-19 pandemic, were terminated within two days by January 12 by the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC).
The workers were terminated without any prior notice, after serving with the corporation for more than a decade at a paltry wage. Another 2,200 workers could face the same fate, as private companies have taken over the waste management in the corporation.
The termination comes after the GCC decided to privatise solid waste management works. More than 9,200 workers are in contract with the GCC in the 15 zones, out of which 2,954 workers are in the seven zones that have now been handed over to Urbaser SA and Sumeet Facilities.
TERMINATION WITHOUT NOTICE
The termination came as a rude shock, as the workers had been in the frontline against the COVID-19 pandemic for the past 10 months. Hundreds of workers contracted the viral infection, including a few of who lost their lives. The workers have been demanding fair wages and permanent jobs after their long service with the GCC but have received the cruel termination, days before the Pongal festival.
Srinivasalu, general secretary of the Chennai Corporation Red Flag Union, told NewsClick, “The GCC commissioner has issued a circular dated January 7 terminating the contract workers in these seven zones where waste management is privatised. We raised our voice and organised the workers for a protest on January 10 against the move, but the workers were informed that no such action is being moved by a GCC official.”
Within 24 hours of the promise being made, 551 workers from zone 8 were terminated on January 11. Another 191 workers from zone 5 were faced the axe on January 12, taking the total tally of terminated workers to 742.
CONTRACTUALISATION OF WORKERS FAVOURING GCC
The GCC has been accused of increasing contractualisation in different sections, including waste management. The workers, including the contract workers, have repeatedly voiced their concerts with private concerns being engaged in waste management works.
The fear of the contract workers only increased after solid waste management was privatised in seven zones in September 2020, which was claimed to be a historic move by the government.
The fears of the workers have come true, as the workers on contract with the GCC are being axed within four months of the privatisation move.
Also read: Chennai: GCC Reappointing Sanitation Workers who Switch over to the BMS
“A total of around 9,200 workers are on contract with GCC through the National Urban Livelihoods Mission (NULM), Nominal Muster Roll (NMR) and with a private concern roped in much earlier. The union opposed the handing over of more zones to the private players fearing exploitation of workers, but the situation has worsened as terminations have started,” Srinivasalu said.
The GCC has stopped receiving the funds through NULM from 2016 as the state government has not conducted the urban local body elections. The state government has not sanctioned the funds to GCC while the corporation is resorting to large scale privatisation, the workers alleged.
‘AUTOCRATIC FUNCTIONING OF GCC’
The GCC has remained less concerned about the welfare of the sanitation workers, as the workers remained underpaid and exploited. It terminated 291 contract workers and suspended four office bearers of the union in September 2020 for demanding the wage as per an order issued in 2017. The GCC was also accused of reappointing the workers who had joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-backed union, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) after the protest was withdrawn.
“The workers were paid Rs 379 till September, after which it was raised to Rs 390 after the three days protest. The GCC reinstated the terminated contract workers and suspended office bearers just 120 days back. With more zones being privatised the wage of the workers will only reduce,” claimed Srinivasalu.
The company has promised to pay Rs 10,000 to the terminated workers, which is highly unlikely according to the workers. Considering the promise, the wage remains still low, while the 2017 order ensures Rs 694 wage per day.
“Within four months of privatisation in these zones, 3 workers have lost their lives in accidents due to overburdening works. The workers are receiving much lesser salary than assured from the company, while the implementation of the 2017 order seems to be a distant dream,” he added, pointing out the apathy of the corporation.