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Contract Workers to Strike Across Karnataka Urban Local Bodies From Feb 1

Protestors across 330 urban local bodies in the state will participate in the strike except for Bengaluru.
Contract Workers to Strike Across Karnataka Urban Local Bodies From Feb 1

Representational Image. Image Courtesy:  Peoples Democracy

Bengaluru: More than 15,000 outsourced workers across Karnataka will go on strike from February 1. Mostly consisting of sanitation workers, the protestors are demanding direct payment and recruitment as permanent employees. Loaders, cleaners, helpers, water supply workers, data operators and sanitary supervisors across 330 urban local bodies in the state will participate in the strike. However, workers in Bengaluru will not take part in it.

A press note put out by the workers’ union says that while some Pourakarmikas (sweepers) were recruited by the government in 2017, the situation faced by other outsourced workers largely remained unchanged. It says, “The driver transports the garbage to the solid waste management centre where the garbage is segregated. However, drivers and loaders are excluded from recruitment. Even the workers who segregate waste are not considered. Creating a division among those working in the same department is not a sound policy.” 

The press note goes on to say that the workers are concerned by the inconvenience that will be caused to common citizens due to the strike and hope that they will lend their support to the workers.

The President of the Karnataka Urban local bodies outsourced workers’ union, MB Naganna Gowda, spoke about the issues faced by workers. Speaking to NewsClick, he said, “The contract lobby is strong in Karnataka. They are determined to ensure that the direct payment system is not implemented for all sanitation workers. After the workers’ protest last year, the government promised to fulfil our demands, but they ended up dividing the workers. The street sweepers were recruited, but loaders and drivers were kept out of the process.” 

The union was set up in 2002 and claims to have 10,000 members. It is not affiliated with any of the central trade unions. Initially, the union represented sanitation workers. In 2017, the Congress government under Siddaramaiah ensured that street sweepers were switched to the direct payment system, but loaders and drivers remained contractual employees. Gowda said that his union focused on outsourced employees in 2017. The most number of members of his union are in Mangalore, followed by Davangere. 

Naganna was born and raised in Mandya. He joined a student movement while he was doing his Bachelor’s at the Boys College (now Mandya University) in Mandya. After his graduation, he began organising slum dwellers. He came in contact with Pourakarmikas and began to learn about their issues, including untouchability. He established a union for Pourakarmikas in Mandya and began taking up their issues. He was also a reporter for Gauri Lankesh Patrike between 2006 and 2008. In 2013, he started his own newspaper called Hale Mysuru (Old Mysore). 

He unsuccessfully contested from the Mandya seat in the 2018 Assembly elections as an independent candidate. Despite hailing from the Vokkaliga stronghold of Mandya, Naganna Gowda chose not to join the Janata Dal (Secular). He said he preferred to remain independent rather than take orders from a political party.

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