Facing job losses amid lockdown, some 32 safai karamcharis (housekeeping staff) of National Law University (NLU), Delhi, who were terminated illegally in December by the university administration, have demanded their immediate reinstatement through a written order by Delhi's Labour Minister Gopal Rai.
The safai karamcharis have been protesting since the past five months – since January 4, 2020 -- against their wrongful removal from the university without any prior notice. As a result, more than 150 lives are at stake. Many of them said they had worked at the university since its inception in 2008.
As per reports, a total of 55 workers were removed from their jobs at NLU when a new contract was signed for housekeeping services with another contractor, according to a press statement issued by the National Law University Delhi Workers Students Solidarity,
However, after unrelenting efforts, involving sit-in protests, demonstrations, media coverage, solidarity statements extended by students of different varsities, a public petition with about 700 signatures, the Delhi Labour Minister Gopal Rai, took cognizance of the issue on February 14, 2020.
Rai sought a factual report from the university within a week. Subsequently, another meeting was held on March 13 at the Delhi Secretariat. The meeting, which took place in the presence of university’s representatives, including NLU’s Deputy Registrar S.C. Lather and the Assistant Registrar Siddharth Dahiya along with the representatives of students and workers was presided by Officer on Special Duty (OSD), Anil Ghildiyal.
According to the protesting workers, the OSD made directed representatives of the university to negotiate with the new contractor, Rajendra Management Group (RMG), to retain all 55 safai karamcharis, failing which the contract would be cancelled and a new tender would be floated.
"The financial bid of RMG should have been rejected at the outset as it does not support the minimum wages of 71 housekeeping staff which is the number stated in the university’s notice of expression of interest," it was stated further.
Speaking to NewsClick, NLU student Alind Gupta, who is part of the solidarity group, said: "A meeting was held in this regard on March 13 with Delhi Labour Minister Gopal Rai's OSD in the presence of university's Deputy Registrar and Assistant Registrar . They checked the tender documents and found loopholes and contractor negligence. He then ordered the immediate reinstatement of the housekeeping staff, failing which his contract could be cancelled. Soon after this, the countrywide lockdown was imposed and university did not reinstate the workers."
Another NLU student, Ekta Tomar, who was present in the March 13 meeting, told NewsClick, "In the meeting university's officials had agreed to reinstate the housekeeping staff after OSD Anil Ghildiyal order them to do so. It was all in our favour till meeting was not over. But, when we contacted the Registrar later, he declined to follow the directive."
The students claimed that they also sent a mail to the NLU Vice-Chancellor but he did not revert till now and they were again trying to approach Rai.
Meanwhile, the terminated safai karamcharis are facing a financial crunch due to the lockdown as they have been without jobs more than a five months now.
When asked how safai karamcharis are surviving the lockdown, Tomar said: "On December 31, they were illegally terminated and we started protesting from January 4 till February 10. They spent their savings and no one ever thought about the lockdown. Now they are surviving on even one-time meal. This job was their support," adding that these workers are sole breadwinners of the family and stay in rented accommodations and each of them has an average of four dependants.
NewsClick approached NLU's Registrar GS Bajpai but he refused to comment over the issue saying that he would respond over mail. NewsClick will update the story when the Registrar's response is received.