Leaving no stone unturned to break the unity of the sanitation workers struggling for a fair wage, the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) is allying with a trade union to collude against the Chennai Corporation Red Flag Union, which has been fighting for the rights of the workers.
After dismissing 291 contractual sanitation workers and suspending 4 permanent workers, the GCC has been reappointing terminated workers who have given in writing that they are joining the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS).
Meanwhile, the GCC has further expanded the contract ambit of sanitation work to 11 of the 15 zones, along with solid waste management work in seven zones. The move makes it clear that the GCC and the state government in Tamil Nadu is focusing more on contractualisation of work, rather than recognising the contribution of frontline workers and paying them a fair wage.
GCC’s ‘Divide and Rule’ Policy
Taking advantage of the inability of the sanitation workers to make a living while on strike, the BMS is assuring workers of a job if they desert the Red Flag Union. So far, 87 workers have got their jobs back after deserting the Red Flag Union.
“The workers are left with no choice and are succumbing to divisive tactics of the GCC and the BMS. Since they are unable to earn a livelihood, they are submitting letters to the GCC saying that they are leaving the Red Flag Union and joining BMS,” an office bearer of the Red Flag Union said.
The GCC had dismissed 291 contract workers for holding protests demanding fair wages. The two-day protest by the workers was seen as a last resort after their repeated demands for wages as per a government order in 2017 fell on deaf ears. They were denied permission for a hunger strike, after which the GCC agreed to consider their demands after three months, given the situation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Commissioner Meeting BMS Workers
The commissioner of the GCC, who refused to meet the protesting workers earlier this month, is reportedly meeting workers who have shifted loyalties to the BMS. Workers who have their ‘apology’ letters are finding it easy to get immediate reinstatement.
Another office bearer of the union said: “The GCC commissioner Prakash is himself meeting the workers along with the BMS leaders. We have a copy of letters in which the workers have stated that they have joined the BMS and have been recommended by the commissioner to be reinstated.”
Speaking to the news portal DT Next, the Joint Commissioner (Health), Madhusudan Reddy, said: “We cannot coerce any worker to join a particular union. We took disciplinary action and now we are reinstating the workers. We cannot do injustice by not providing them jobs”.
An office bearer of the Red Flag Union said, “This is not justice. This is a betrayal by the corporation administration. Reappointing a select few workers is a ploy to destroy the unity of the workers.”
More Contractualisation of Work
The GCC has roped in private players in sanitation work and solid waste management. Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami inaugurated the solid waste management project on September 30 saying the government would make the city clean.
The work will be carried out by Spain-based Urbaser SA and Sumeet Facilities Limited in seven zones of the corporation. The company will employ 10,844 workers to handle 3,000 e-rickshaws and 11,000 compactor trash cans.
“The company has announced that it will pay Rs 4,600 to the most of the workers, while the corporation has said the wages will be Rs 8,600 per month. It is very less compared to the Rs 390 wage per day agreed by the GCC in talks after the protest,” the workers alleged.
CITU Extends Support
Given the pandemic, the striking workers are struggling to get by. The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) has distributed rice and groceries worth more than Rs 3.5 lakh to the dismissed contract workers. The government had promised an ex-gratia amount for front-line workers who have tested positive for COVID-19, but sanitation workers with the GCC have alleged that most of the infected workers are yet to receive any support from the government. The GCC had alleged that the sanitation workers were being denied COVID-19 testing for long in a bid to suppress numbers. Workers who succumbed to the infection too did not receive compensation, the union had alleged.
The demand of the sanitation workers of a daily wage of Rs 694 is still pending. The GCC claims to have done right by the workers by reinstating them. However, the striking workers say justice will not be done until wages set by the government order are given to them.