The teachers and staff of the National Child Labour Project (NCLP) schools in Tamil Nadu have been working without honorarium for the past several months. Many of the staff in Dharmapuri and Dindigul have been terminated for demanding the pending honorarium from the district administration. The teachers of these schools are paid a paltry sum of Rs 7,000 per month. There are about 270 schools as per the government data in 15 districts in the state.
Many of the schools are also being shut down citing low enrolment of students. The staff allege that the figures regarding child labour quoted by the district administration do not reflect the reality, since only the concentration of child labour in a particular area has reduced whereas the total number could have increased in the recent years.
16 SCHOOLS CLOSED IN TRICHY
A total of 16 schools out of the 21 schools functioning in Tiruchi district were closed down through a single order from July. The administration cited that the schools lacked the minimum number of 15 students in each of the schools. A total of 54 staff who worked at these schools have been left jobless after the schools have been closed.
A teacher, who worked at one of these schools, said, “I was working in the NCLP school for the past 10 years at a very low honorarium. Most of us have worked tirelessly for eradicating child labour in whichever area we are deputed to work. But, the government and the administration have never considered our problems and demands. After putting in several years of service, we are now left jobless and we have no idea of what to do next.”
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Even for these staff, the honorarium for 12 months were not paid at the time of closure of the schools. After several rounds of discussion with the administration, they were paid the honorarium for seven months and are yet to receive the remaining amount. The district administration and the Non-government Organisations (NGOs) responsible for the operation of the schools blame the union government for late disbursal of funds for the operation of the schools.
STAFF DEMAND ALTERNATE JOBS
The staffs for the NCLP schools including teacher, record keeper and helper are directly appointed by the District Magistrate/ District Collector based on the power vested in the capacity of chairperson of the NCLP District Project Society (DPS).
Azhagu Jothi, general secretary of the NCLP Teachers’ and Workers’ Association (NCLPTWA), told NewsClick, “The appointments were made based on the qualification of the applicants. The candidates with diploma in teacher training or bachelor of education were given priority for the post of teachers. Most of the staffs have put in service for more than 15 years in the project. When the district administration decides to close down the schools, they must ensure an alternate job for the teachers and staff working in the project.”
The association also alleged that the witch hunting of those staff who unionise to claim their demands has been continuing for the past several years. The closing down of schools in Tiruchi district is the most recent example of the administration’s attitude towards the staff involved in an ambitious project of government of India aimed at eradicating child labour of all forms.
NO FUNDS FOR DINDIGUL, VIRUDHUNAGAR
Dindigul district has been the most affected since the fund allocation has been withheld for the past one and a half years. The staff are having a horrible time without their honorarium being paid. The students are also deprived of the monthly incentive of Rs 400/ for attending the classes regularly as per the project guidelines.
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“The rent for buildings remains unpaid while the students are not provided with noon meals in the district. The condition is so pathetic but the district administration has turned its eyes away from the plight of the staff and the students,” added Jothi.
The teachers and staff of Virudhunagar district are yet to be paid salary for the past eight months, while the district administration has accepted the reception of funds from the union government as per the office bearers of NCLPTWA. The status of the staff in the other 13 districts where the NCLP schools are operating remain more or less the same.
NO SOCIAL SECURITY FOR NCLP STAFF
The NCLP staff are paid a consolidated honorarium ever since the inception of the scheme by the union government. They are not entitled to any social security measures like Employees Provident Fund, Employees State Insurance or pension.
“I have worked in the NCLP school since 1999 and I am being paid Rs 7,000 like any other new staff. We are not entitled to any other benefits also. We are losing our job since we ensure the child labourers are coming to school every day and get admitted to regular schools. The reduction in concentration of child labour alone cannot be considered as the reason for closure of schools. We strongly demand the revision of policy of identification of child labourers and ensure the eradication of such practices at the micro level,” added Jothi.
The union government in an office memorandum dated October 31, 2017, has extended the NCLP project till March 2020. However, even now most the schools are functioning in rented buildings with very poor infrastructural facilities. The amount sanctioned to special training centres for rent, water, electricity, toilet, cleanliness, play area, etc, is a meagre Rs 3,000 per month, which shows the apathy of the government in ensuring a healthy and hygienic learning atmosphere.
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The fate of the project remains inconclusive along with the fate of thousands of workers associated with the project since the fund allocation has seen certain increase and reduction in the past decade. With no social security schemes and job security or provision for deployment in other departments of the state government, the staff have been left in the lurch, facing an uncertain future.