Chennai: Already underpaid and insecure, the exploitation of teachers and staff of private colleges and schools continues unabated in Tamil Nadu during the pandemic. Unable to bear the brunt of the non-payment and massive wage cuts for months together, many have ended their lives. Till September 2021, seven had died by suicide, while another one died after falling from a tree.
Various organisations have been critical of the government's apathy to their repeated pleas for regulation of private institutions. The unorganised nature of employees in private institutions is only helping managements to increase exploitation.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has refused to enquire into the incidents of alleged suicides and accidents of these employees.
The lockdown since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened the plight of the staff in several private educational institutions in Tamil Nadu, with them facing issues ranging from wage cuts and non-payment of salary for months.
"Several private institutions have reduced wages and not paid employees yet. This has led to several employees ending their lives", alleged KM Karthick, president of the All India Private College Employees Union (AIPCEU).
Several others have left their teaching jobs and taken up menial jobs, including as daily wagers, for survival.
"One such person, Loganathan, who worked as an assistant professor of Maths at Nazareth College of Arts in Chennai, died after falling from a palm tree", said Karthick. It is not clear whether it was an accident.
Of the eight who lost their lives, six are below 40 years old. The inability to fend for their families has been attributed as the possible reason for these suicides.
"Many of them were unable to look after their families due to the apathy from the institutions. The government is highly insensitive to the demands of the community", added Karthick.
A 35-year-old woman teacher from Cuddalore, who worked in a matriculation school ,and a 32-year-old assistant professor from a Madurai engineering college are also among those who allegedly died by suicide due to non-payment of salary and termination from their jobs.
GOVT ‘INSENSITIVE’ TO APPEALS
The AIPCEU and teachers' association of private schools have narrated their plight to these schools as well as the state higher education minister.
"Our community feels betrayed by the government", says Karthick. "Despite making several representations to the government on the pathetic status of employees of private schools and colleges, no action has been taken by the government", he added.
Though the institutions cite closure due to pandemic for their action, the associations of school and college managements have ensured collection of fees through legal action.
Meanwhile, the Tamil Nadu unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M) has submitted a charter of demands seeking redressal of these issues about the functioning of private institutions and delayed and non-payment of salaries to the employees.
"The CPI(M) is the only party to raise concerns about the sufferings of the employees of private institutions", Karthick said.
"Around 80% of the faculty in colleges and 50% in schools belong to self-financing institutions. Despite regulations from the bodies concerned, the employees are paid a lower salary, which is being further cut down citing the pandemic", said K Balakrishnan, CPI(M) state secretary, in a letter addressed to chief minister M.K. Stalin.
"Most of the teachers in private schools are paid around Rs 10,000, and assistant professors in engineering colleges draw a salary of Rs 25,000 in a majority of the institutions. The government must ensure that the community is ensured social security measures and other demands by constituting a committee", he demanded.
NHRC TURNS DOWN PLEA
The NHRC has rejected an appeal asking it to inquire into the incidents of suicides and accidents of seven private institution employees.
"I registered a complaint with the NHRC to conduct an enquiry into the incidents. But the commission has rejected it, citing that 'the allegations do not make out any specific violation of human rights," Karthick said.
The NHRC, on two previous instances, refused to hold an inquiry on faculty suicides in 2018.
"One Mr Vasanthavanan died by suicide after his institution refused to return his certificates. The NHRC refused to hold an inquiry at that time also", Karthick said.
The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) has warned the affiliated institutions not to retain the original documents of the faculty. "But the certificate slavery continues in the educational institutions", Karthick added.
The AIPCEU has called upon the union and state governments to intervene and act immediately to end the miseries of the employees of several private institutions.