For Archana, the onset of the festive season is no reason to feel elated. On the contrary, this is precisely the period when she is more worried than usual because the administration at the Asha Kiran shelter home for mentally challenged people, where the 35-year-old is employed as a ‘house aunty’, has not made the monthly salary payment to its employees since past four months.
Located in Rohini’s Sector 1 in the national capital, the shelter home – ‘Mandhbuddhi Vikas Griha’ – is administered by the Delhi government’s Social Welfare Department. Established in 1989, it is the sole government-run residential facility for the mentally challenged in the northern region.
To protest against the salary delay, Archana and over 200 ‘house aunties’ at the shelter home will be joining the city-wide work strike, called jointly by the Delhi-unit of the Central Trade Unions (CTUs) on November 25. On Thursday, a section of these women partook in a rally to submit the strike notice to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
“The working conditions in the shelter homes have been horrible for many years now. We, the women, take care of the mentally challenged people, and yet we are not even paid our salaries on time nor are we covered under PF or ESI schemes,” lamented Archana, who was employed on contract by the Delhi government in 2010.
A delegation led by CTU leaders submitted a strike notice to the AAP government in Delhi on Thursday. Image clicked by Ronak Chhabra
According to her, instead of regularising the ‘house aunty’ post – as demanded by the women and promised by CM Kejriwal – the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-led government is gradually outsourcing the jobs to private contractors.
Thursday’s rally was led by the CTU leaders. It began from Shaheed Bhagat Singh Park near ITO Metro Station and was to culminate at the Delhi Secretariat. Nearly a hundred rallying workers were, however, stopped by the Delhi Police before the planned destination.
The CTUs argued in their strike notice on Thursday that the rising prices of the essential commodities have pushed the working population in the national capital to destitution. According to the trade unions’ notice, the workers’ woes are only compounded because the labour regulations in the industrial establishments in Delhi are not “effectively implemented”.
Meanwhile, amid the pandemic, the workers are “forced” to work for up to 10 to 12 hours and often on lesser monthly payments than the minimum wage rates stipulated by the Delhi government, as per the trade unions. The minimum wage for an unskilled labourer in the national capital currently stands at Rs 15,908 and for a skilled labourer at Rs 19,921.
Against this backdrop, the trade unions are demanding Rs 26,000 as minimum wage along with monthly cash support of Rs 7,500 to the unorganised workforce. Among their other significant demands are the withdrawal of the four labour codes and an immediate end to the system of contractualisation in the national capital.
“A delegation of trade union leaders met the PA (personal assistant) of Manish Sisodia (Delhi’s Labour Minister) and submitted the strike notice to him,” Anurag Saxena, general secretary of Centre of Indian Trade Unions, told Newsclick. He added that the workers from different sections would strike on November 25 to register their anger.
To be sure, on Thursday, sections of street vendors, garbage collectors, industrial workers, and hotel workers, among others, joined the CTUs rally. Rina, a street vendor, said, “The workers want the governments to listen to them because, after the pandemic, the situation has worsened.”
Rina, a member of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), gave her own example to illustrate her point. “Earlier, I used to earn enough to save up to Rs 2000-3000 per month but now forget saving; I have to borrow money every now and then to meet the family’s expenses,” said the 35-year-old cloth seller at Jama Masjid. Asked about what was her demand, Rina said that the government should develop a social security scheme for the street vendors.
Present at the rally, Mohammad Nihaal, 53, slammed both the AAP government and the Central government for their “anti-workers policies.” “Today, we are rallying to protest against both the governments who have not done enough for the workers despite knowing that the pandemic has impacted them a lot,” said Nihaal, a loading-unloading worker at Shakur Basti Railway Station.
He also claimed that most of the problems of the workers would be solved if the contract system ended. “I have been a contract worker for the last 35 years. For all these years, I have been paid less and harassed by my contractor. The government must end such a system soon and must provide decent jobs to the workers,” he said.