Lucknow: Amid scorching heat, Kanti Devi and Pratibha, with toddlers in their laps, have been sitting under the open sky on an indefinite satyagraha for the past two days along with hundreds of contractual employees of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). They are demanding regularisation of their jobs and an increase in honorarium.
These women are part of more than 500 contractual workers from across Uttar Pradesh, who reached the state capital, Lucknow, on Wednesday. As part of their satyagraha, the MGNREGA employees reached Darul Safa, the MLAs quarters, to submit a pamphlet highlighting their six- key demands and to make them aware of their plight and misery. Then they split into various groups and distributed pamphlets to common citizens and political leaders, including UP Law Minister Brajesh Pathak.
The MGNREGA union has been demanding that— contractual employees should get permanent status as they have been working at the same level for the last 10-15 years; recruitment through government e-marketplace(GEM) should be completely banned as contractors of the portal continuously exploit workers; female helper should be selected from gram panchayat; equal pay for equal work till completion of regularisation process; at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year; employer’s share of employees’ provident fund pending since 2014; payment of time-bound wages, among others.
Miffed over the non-fulfilment of their demands, Kanti, a Sevak said, “We have been protesting peacefully for genuine demands and rights but the ruling government has ignored us so far. This has exposed the anti-people and anti-poor stand of the government. We want our salaries to be increased to Rs 10,000,” she told NewsClick, adding that "before coming to power, the BJP government had assured people that they will be provided government jobs and contractual employees will be regularised, but none has been fulfilled."
Four cadres of contractual workers under MGNREGA, comprising— additional programme officers (APO), technical assistants, computer operators, accountants and gram rozgar sevaks, are part of the agitation.
Sanjay Dixit, former member of the Ministry of Rural Development, Employment Guarantee Council, who is leading the contractual MGNREGA workers, said: “For the last six months, any organisation in the state that tried to protest for their democratic rights, was either stopped with the help of UP police in an undemocratic way or legal action was taken by the government against them for raising their issues. Therefore, we decided to protest in a Gandhian way. We are walking on the streets of Lucknow and meeting MLAs, ministers of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and common people. We are neither breaking any law nor are we violating Section 144 imposed in Lucknow. We are also following COVID-19 protocol. At night, we are sleep on footpaths,” Dixit told said, when asked about the ‘new way of protest’.
He said the first batch of contractual employees will be heading toward Park Road, Vidhan Sabha Nivas to meet MLAs today. They are also planning to write a letter to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath with their blood.
Last December, the state government had decided to extend the benefits -- pension, medical facility and housing assistance among others to MGNREGA workers and families who are registered under the labour department. However, the workers have not received any perks since they couldn't register themselves with the labour department.
The demand for work under MGNREGA has more than doubled in this fiscal due to the second wave of COVID-19 lockdown but due to the "lack of work", a huge number of migrant workers have started reverse migration in search of jobs in big cities. These issues were covered by Newsclick in an earlier story on reverse migration.
Contractual employees protesting against the low wages and regularisation of employment said they would continue their satyagraha until their demands are met.
1. Expand our job chart and add the work of all the schemes which we are doing for the last many years and a minimum honorarium of at least Rs 16,000.
2. Contractual workers should be adjusted from the post of Panchayat Assistant and by creating new posts, they should be given the status of full-time state employees.
3. Honorarium of technical assistants should be doubled and the Rs 3,000, allowance should be given per month. The honorarium for technical assistance is given not from the administrative means but from the material component.
4. The APO should be given financial power and administrative rights, a 50% increase in honorarium and a Rs 5,000 allowance.
5. Honorarium of computer operators and accounts assistants should be doubled. They are made to work for 18 hours under all schemes like bonded labour. Hence, their working hours should be fixed.
6. From April 2015, all benefits of the Employees' Provident Fund Act should be given.
7. Service providers should be completely banned in MGNREGA.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is a social security measure that aims to guarantee the 'right to work'. This act was passed in September 2005 under the UPA government.