A section of the sanitation workers employed with the Salem district Corporation in Tamil Nadu is protesting against a three-month delay in their salaries. They held a day-long strike and stormed the corporation office on February 8.
In a situation already made difficult by the pandemic, month-long lapses in salary have pushed the sanitation workers to the edge of destitution. Representing their plight, the sanitation workers protested holding begging bowls on the day of the strike.
The workers have declared that they would extend their protest indefinitely if the authorities do not take steps to address their demands.
CORPORATION REMAINS INDIFFERENT
The sanitation workers deployed in the Kondalampatti and Hasthampatti zones had put in a request with the Corporation soon after the first month’s default. Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) sent a representation to the District Collector demanding immediate disbursal of their December 2020 and January 2021 salaries.
Yet, the Corporation continued to remain indifferent to the concerns of the sanitation workers.
“As per law, the sanitation workers’ monthly salary is due on the 1st of every month, but that is not being practised and month-long delays are being normalised,” said Panneer Selvam, CITU Salem district committee president. He said that CITU has been interacting with the respective authorities regarding the issue of irregular pay.
Condemning Salem Corporation’s alleged insensitive treatment towards the workers, National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM), an umbrella organisation of movements in India, released a statement on February 11. It read, “We condemn the indifferent attitude of Salem Corporation and demand immediate payment of the dues and necessary steps to address the demands of the aggrieved workers.”
At present, 1464 sanitary workers are engaged in solid waste management activities in Salem City Corporation. In addition, almost 1,500 workers are employed on a daily wage basis through women’s SHGs.
CORPORATION ALLEGEDLY MISHANDLING FUNDS
Along with the delay in payment, the sanitation workers are simultaneously fighting the Corporation’s alleged usurpation of funds due to them. The salary deductions made towards their Provident Fund (PF) over the past five years have not been duly transferred to the respective bank accounts. Salem District Municipality and Corporation Workers Union has stated, “In fact, most workers, who have been employed for more than 22 years, don’t even have PF accounts.”
The protesting workers also accuse the Corporation of not forwarding funds deducted from their salaries towards loan payments. It is a practice in the region that a part of the workers’ salary is deducted towards loan borrowed from co-operatives. But, not forwarding the deducted amount “has resulted in unjust accrual of interest and penalty amount” on the workers, says the Union.
The Union has also raised the concern that women workers are asked to board the garbage trucks, despite there being a rule against doing so.
SIMILAR SITUATION IN OTHER PARTS OF TN
K Samuel Raj, general secretary of Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF), told NewsClick while referring to the unstable lives of sanitation workers that “this is not the case only with Salem, delay in pay and other hardships, especially for sanitation workers, is a scenario present all over Tamil Nadu. Not uniformly, but it is definitely a state-wide phenomenon.”
Last month, in the process of privatising solid waste management, the Greater Chennai Corporation sacked more than 700 sanitation workers.
It is noteworthy that Salem is the native district of Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami; he is the MLA of Edappadi constituency in Salem. He takes pride in extending many development projects to Salem. A two-tier flyover at the cost of Rs 441 crore was inaugurated in June 2020. Efforts of further enhancing flight services between Chennai and Salem are underway.
Under the Smart City mission, many green space parks were inaugurated, battery-operated vehicles worth around Rs 1.38 crore were provided, and even anti-plastic awareness drives were held. But, the sanitation workers who transfer around 350 tonnes of solid waste generated under Salem Corporation are struggling without salaries due to them.