After 11 days of protest, the housekeeping and sanitation workers of Jaipur’s Malviya National Institute of Technology (MNIT) emerged victorious, with the college management assuring them of reinstating their contracts. The workers were demonstrating against the college management’s decision to suddenly terminate their contracts.
On August 9, the workers took out a march to express their anger. Around 120 terminated sanitation workers have been demonstrating since July 30 under the banner of Jaipur Thekedaran (Contract) Workers’ Union (JTWU) which is affiliated to Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). At the heart of the protest was the demand of the sanitation workers to stop the contractualisation of work – to reinstate their contracts and regularise them. An official complaint for the same was lodged in the city’s labour court.
On August 9, the campus authorities met the workers in the presence of officials from city’s labour commission, for the first time since the protest commenced, leading to the management bowing down to their demands. The workers were assured that their contracts would be reinstated. However, the demand of regularisation was not addressed.
“We struggled against what was wrong and ‘anti-worker’ and we succeeded,” said Prem Chand, General Secretary of JTWU.
The matter, according to the workers, dates back to July 26 when the campus guards, while informing the workers about the appointment of a new contractor, didn’t allow them to enter the campus. The new contractor for this year is a company named Orion Security Solutions Private Limited, which was previously blacklisted by National Institute of Technology, Uttarakhand, for reportedly not paying minimum wages to workers.
“Some of these workers have been working in the institute since 20-22 years and were sacked by the college without even a notice,” Suresh Kumar, a Jaipur Safai Karamchari Union (JSKU) representative told Newsclick. JSKU had extended support to the protest led by the terminated sanitation workers.
For the past eight years, the contract had been awarded to the same contractor under whom these sanitation workers used to work. However, this year, the contractor was changed and the workers were left in the lurch, he added.
The new contract, though with similar set of terms and conditions as the previous contracts, allegedly allowed the institute to bypass certain norms and conditions that are crucial for job security of the sanitation workers. This arrangement was achieved allegedly through the ‘anti-worker’ methods adopted by Orion Security Solutions Private Limited.
At first, according to Kumar, the number of sanitation workers under the new contractor was significantly less. Only 50-60 workers were doing the work which was earlier carried out by 120 workers, as a result of which, the individual workload had considerably increased while there was no change in the salary structure.
Furthermore, the sanitation workers were appointed by the Orion Security Solutions on a regular basis as opposed to monthly basis. These new workers got daily wage of ₹ 500-600 and most of them didn’t show up the next day because of the nature of the job. The presence of numerous labour chowks – a place where labourers looking for work gather – in the city allows Orion Security Solutions and other such contractors to never face dearth of workers looking for work.
The newly employed workers were also deprived of the social security that was previously enjoyed by the workers discharging similar duties.
“Previously, our lives were secured as an amount was contributed to schemes like provident fund and ESI (Employee State Insurance), Chand said, “however, with this new arrangement, it is not possible for the workers to avail benefits of such schemes.”
With a new worker coming in daily to perform the duties, the job conditions became more repressive and the management effectively got away with the union as well, which was formed in 2013 to safeguard the interests of the sanitation workers, Chand alleged.
Interestingly, according to the protesting workers, Orion Security Solutions initially made a proposal to employ 50 people for the work. However, the proposal came with certain conditions such as salary cuts, monthly commission and dissolution of the union. The workers said they refused this, knowing that accepting it would amount to committing suicide.
Now the workers are elated as the college management, taking cognizance of the demonstration, has asked Orion Security Solutions to employ the sanitation workers without any conditions. The workers will be employed based on seniority, which means the ones who have served the most will be employed first. The rest will be employed by the previous contractor, though all of them will work in the same college campus. The union will continue to operate.
“We fought for 11 days and we could have, if needed, fought for another 11 months,” Chand said, adding that, “our lives were no good before, but at least it won’t be worse now.”