The casual workers of the Jammu and Kashmir Public Health Engineering Department and Power Development Department, have been protesting for several days against the administrative negligence. Now, over 1 lakh casual workers, working in various departments including irrigation, PHE, PDD, Forest Department, safai karamchari, horticulture, among others, united under the banner J&K Casual Labourers’ United Front (JKCLUF) have decided to launch a united struggle with a hunger strike on October 2– on Gandhi Jayanti –to reiterate their long standing demands.
Their demands are basic: release of pending wages, regularisation of their jobs, and implementation of Minimum Wage Act.
More than a year has passed since the special provisions udner Article 370 were abrogated and the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir was demoted to a Union Territory, but the workers say that their plight remains unchanged. According to the workers, no job policy has been framed in the last one year to regularise them, and the Minimum Wage Act has yet not been implemented. The Minimum Wage Act assures minimum wage of Rs 520 on daily basis to the workers which was supposed to be extended to the UT after the erstwhile state was demoted and the powers were shifted from state to Centre.
The workers are, currently, entitled to receive honorarium of Rs 225 which they said that they don’t receive frequently and hence, there has been a huge backlog of pending wages.
Speaking to NewsClick, J&K Casual Labourers United Front Vice President, Deepak Kumar said, “The condition of workers is bad. Many workers have taken debt as they don’t have money to feed their families. We have been consistently protesting for our basic rights. We don’t know why J&K administration is taking so much of time to respond. We are not asking for anything illegal.”
Workers told NewsClick that they are heavily under debt and many of their close associates have died by suicide as they were unable to feed their families. “Around 40-50 workers have died by suicide this year in Kashmir and the other casual workers have died while fixing transformers, utility poles and electric wires. Even our deaths are not able to move this rigid administration,” Imran Parray, President, Kashmir Division, JKCLUS told NewsClick.
Over the years, Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed frequent strikes by the workers against the successive governments which have failed to address their genuine demands. The workers have been appealing the administration to adopt a comprehensive job policy for regularisation of casual workers including daily wagers and casual labourers employed in various departments since 1994. Most of the workers employed as casual labourers have completed 7 to 10 years of service and have yet not been promoted as permanent employees and their wages are sparse and infrequent.
Also read: Jammu: Ten Months on, PDD Workers Still Await Minimum Wage Act
“It has become difficult for us to fulfill our day to day needs. We urgently want the L G Manoj Sinha to notice our plight,” Akhil, president of the PDD union, said.
Speaking to NewsClick, member of Communist Party of India (Marxist), Jammu, Sham Prasad Kesar said, “The successive governments have turned a blind eye to the plight of the workers in Jammu and Kashmir. The workers in J&K have never been the government’s priority. Their deaths go unnoticed. The state governments have always given false assurance to them. This is grave injustice and I stand by the workers."