The work strike of temporary staff of the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) reached its fifth day on May 20. The workers have occupied the space outside the Metro Water head office in Pattinapakkam, Chennai demanding permanent employment.
Metrowater workers ensure uninterrupted water supply and clearance of sewage in Chennai.
There are around 1,900 contract workers employed in 200 depots across the city. Many of them have been working for daily wages for 20 to 25 years, hoping they will someday relish the benefits of permanent employment.
The ruling DMK-government supported their demand for job regularisation when it was the opposition party in the previous regime but has now turned a blind eye to their concerns.
The monthly salaries of the CMWSSB contract workers are calculated based on attendance, and they face a loss of pay for going on leave.
Ponnurranggan, a metro water contract employee from Ambattur, said, “When I joined work in 2013, I used to get around Rs 8,500 a month, and now I get anywhere between Rs 13,500-16,500 a month.”
At the protest site outside the metro water head office. Image courtesy: Ponnurrangan
Besides the lack of job security, the workers are also not eligible for benefits such as PF and ESI. A few years ago, a small sum was withheld from their wages for PF, but the workers said it was not debited into their accounts. After many discrepancies, it was halted.
Although they carry out sanitation work, the workers say they are not provided with any safety gear. Neither are they given uniforms. The workers spend from their pockets to purchase the blue uniform.
Ponnurrangan said, “We even wear used uniforms of the permanent employees. This is to ensure that we are identified as metro water workers by the public.”
The contract workers are not provided identity cards by the Metro Water Board.
‘WHY SHOULD WE SUFFER?’
Since the DMK came to power, the metro water contract workers have sent memorandums to the respective authorities, but to no avail. The workers said many memorandums were sent to KN Nehru, Minister for Municipal Administration, Urban and Water Supply, and Chief Minister MK Stalin.
Metro water contract workers on the fifth day of protest. Image courtesy: Comrade Talkies
Even the opposition party in the state, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), has not extended solidarity for their protest.
With a shaky voice, Ponnurrangan said, “We clean sewerage; the public mistreats us. They usually do not even give us water. They ask us to stand at a distance.”
He added, “We, the temporary workers, do all the dirty work without taking even a day off. We have also worked through the tsunami, floods and COVID-19, and the government still does not recognise our work.”
“The government says they are out of funds to make us permanent employees. The officials and others live luxurious lives with cars, AC and bungalows. And, we should be dying? Why should we suffer?” said Ponnurrangan.
GAVE HOPE AND LET DOWN
In 2017, CMWSSB contract employees’ dream of becoming permanent employees was nearly met.
“V Arun Roy was the Metro Water MD then, he took the initiative to regularise 800 metro water workers and let those families see the light of day, but he was soon replaced,” said Ponnurrangam.
Although the metro water contract employees have for years demanded the board to stop floating tenders and absorb them, the board repeatedly floats tenders.
The frustrated employees have boycotted work and have refused to call off their strike until they are given written assurance of being made permanent. The protesters have been sleeping outside the office for the past four nights.