Andamans: Daily Wagers Employed by PWD Stage Indefinite Protest
APWD workers stage demonstration at Mayabunder, a town in Middle Andaman Island. Image Courtesy - Special Arrangement
New Delhi: The Andaman Sarvajanik Nirman Vibhag Mazdoor Sangh (ASNVMS) called for a general body meeting on Saturday to decide on the future course of action days after it launched an indefinite protest to hike the paychecks of daily wagers under the Union Territory’s Public Works Department (PWD).
Nearly 4,800 daily wagers, or daily-rated mazdoors (DRMs), recruited by the PWD in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, have been demonstrating across the region since Wednesday (October 19). Their demand is for the PWD to implement a 2019 order of the Calcutta High Court on the grant of payment to the workers as per central government standards.
The Andaman Public Works Department (APWD) is the Indian archipelago’s oldest and premier engineering organisation responsible for constructing public infrastructure and providing comprehensive services, including planning and designing, among others.
It employs regular staff, along with casual workers and persons on daily wages, as the APWD also undertakes the task of providing the islanders with drinking water, roads, and bridges, and so on.
The DRMs, however, are paid “very less” as compared to what they should have been, B. Chandrachoodan, president of ASNVMS, told Newsclick while speaking over the phone from Port Blair on Saturday. “Thousands of them have not been paid according to the central government’s specifications for many years, regarding which our union, at first, struggled against the UT administration through legal means,” Chandrachoodan said.
He added that the union won the case after a Circuit Bench of Calcutta High Court at Port Blair issued a “favourable order” in December 2019 in the interest of the “legitimate and just demands” of the APWD’s daily wagers.
“But the  order has not been implemented as yet,” he said, adding that the delay prompted the union to call for the latest indefinite demonstration.
According to local media reports, the Calcutta High Court had ordered that a daily-rated casual worker engaged by the Andaman and Nicobar administration in any of its department is entitled to 1/30th of the pay at the minimum of the relevant pay scale plus dearness allowance for work of eight hours a day, as specified by the Union Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions (Department of Personnel & Training) through a June 1988 office memorandum.
The said order further added that the payment has to be made to the daily wagers for every day of their engagement on and from when the central government’s office memorandum was issued. Workers are also not to be differentiated based on sanctioning of their post or an absence of it.
“Till now, however, only about 2,500 daily wagers on sanctioned posts have been paid as per the 2019 High Court orders, that too, for a limited period. Even their arrears are still pending,” Chandrachoodan told Newsclick.
A questionnaire has been sent to the UT administration over e-mail, a response to which is awaited.
Meanwhile, on Friday, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) extended its support to the indefinite demonstration of the APWD workers while urging the UT administration to resolve the issue at the earliest. “CITU also demands fixing of accountability of the UT Govt, Chief Engineer and other officials who deliberately disobeyed the High Court orders,” the central trade union said in a statement.
D. Ayyappan, vice president of CITU – Andaman & Nicobar Islands unit, told Newsclick on Saturday that the UT administration had called a meeting with the union on Thursday. At the meeting, they assured the union that its demands will be addressed soon. “We demand that the administration implements the High Court order for all the DRMs employed by different departments. We also demand that a bonus is paid to them,” he said.
There are a total of 9,000 DRMs employed by numerous departments of the UT administration, Newsclick was told.
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