Chennai: Thousands of contract workers of the Tamil Nadu Electricity Generation and Distribution Corporation (TANGEDCO) courted arrest in nine regions across the state on Thursday. The protesting workers are demanding fixation of minimum wages for contract workers, appointing contract workers in around 43,000 existing vacancies, disbursal of bonus to contract workers on par with regular employees and a roll-back of the steep hike in charges for new electricity connections.
The struggle was led by the Central Organisation of Tamil Nadu Electricity Employees (COTEE) affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).
There are over 10,000 contract workers in TANGEDCO who have been working for more than 10 years in various capacities, including electricity generation and maintenance.
The general secretary of CITU Tamil Nadu state committee, G Sukumaran, who led the demonstration in Chennai, said: “The government and TANGEDCO administration should initiate steps to appoint contract workers in the existing vacancies. They can be appointed as helpers in the department, considering their present nature of work. Any fresh appointments should give preference to contract workers who are working for the past several years for paltry wages.”
REGULARISE CONTRACT WORKERS
The contract workers said the TANGEDCO administration was apathetic towards their welfare as also fixing of wages.
“The TANGEDCO administration does not maintain proper records of the contract workers, whose major demand is to identify contract workers and regularise them. The administration had agreed to this demand in 2016. Also, the demand of a minimum salary of Rs 380/day, which was accepted in 2018, is yet to be implemented. Given the present inflation and cost of living this amount too is insufficient,” the state president of COTEE, Jai Shankar, told NewsClick.
Incidentally, TANGEDCO recently announced the creation of a new position called ‘’gang man and notified 5,000 vacancies. The contract workers, however, said that this move was unnecessary as the existing post of helper was sufficient to carry out the basic work.
THERMAL STATIONS OPERATE WITH CONTRACT WORKERS
Contract workers are being involved in all works relating to the operation and maintenance of thermal power stations. Apart from the paltry wages that they get, the administration has failed to pay any compensation to contract workers in case of workplace mishaps.
“The contract workers are assigned all works in the thermal stations against the norms of the department itself. The TANGEDCO denies this but rejects any compensation for mishaps once a worker meets with any accident”, Jai Shankar said.
REGULAR EMPLOYEES TO JOIN PROTEST
Meanwhile, regular workers of the department have announced their support to the demands of the contract workers and have threatened a joint struggle if the government continues to deny the rights of contract workers.
The workers also demanded the rollback of hiked charges for new connections for domestic and commercial purposes. The charges for overhead and underground electricity connection for both single and three-phase connections have been hiked sharply.
It may be recalled that the performance of TANGEDCO workers, a majority of them being contract workers, was highly appreciated during the recent cyclones that hit Tamil Nadu. Yet, despite repeated struggles and assurances, these workers have not received the deserved recognition for their work and demand for regularisation and fair wages have fallen on deaf ears.
If the TANGEDCO administration continues to neglect this crucial workforce, the threat of interruption in electricity generation and distribution may disrupt daily life in the state, as regular workers have now threatened to join hands with contract workers.