Thousands of Safai Karamcharis (sanitation workers) in 27 districts of Uttar Pradesh, united under the banner of Akhil Bhartiya Safai Mazdoor Sangh and Bhim Army held a protest march where they raised slogans to support their dissent against the move to privatise workers by various municipal corporations of the state. This move is set to leave hundreds of workers unemployed.
The sanitation workers are demanding a revocation of the order which allows contractors to employ workers for sanitation and maintenance work. The workers carried banners and placards to register their protest. They are also demanding a wage revision which has been due for a couple of years along with many other things affecting their day to day needs.
The protesting workers have warned that if the move is not rolled back, they will gherao the residences of Ministers, MPs and MLAs. Further, if their demands still remain unfulfilled, they will protest outside the assembly and will hamper the sanitation work of the assembly. They have also submitted a charter of demands to the Commissioner of Meerut.
Vipin Manothia Balmiki, a Dalit leader who organised today’s protest, told NewsClick, "our protest was against the Uttar Pradesh government which has implemented privatisation of sanitation workers in 27 district of the state. We are seeking minimum wages for sanitation workers, as only in a few districts the workers are getting Rs 18,000 and in most other districts, workers are getting Rs 6,000 to Rs 7,000 which is not fair. If the government does not resolve this issue within 15 days, we will conduct a massive protest across Uttar Pradesh and we will not hesitate to protest outside the assembly also."
Sushil Guatam, a social activist based in Meerut who led the protest told NewsClick, "Recently in Muzaffarnagar, 310 women belonging to the Dalit community were hired by a private company named RK Contractor. Three months later, the contractor absconded and there are no whereabouts of him since then. The absconding contractor needs to clear dues of nearly Rs 48 lakh to sanitation workers. When the sanitation workers approached the District Magistrate (DM) of Muzaffarnagar, he did not pay heed and instead questioned them as to who advised them to work for a private company. It is evident that the administration works hand-in-glove with these private companies.”
The workers feel that working under contractors is a huge risk as private contractors neither adhere to providing the set minimum wage, nor do they provide any safety gears to the them. “Jab sena ka ek jawan border par mar jata hai to unko shaheed ka darza diya jata hai lekin jab ek safai karmachari nale ki safai karte waqt mar jata hai to uski koi value nahi (When a soldier dies on the border, he is declared a martyred but when a sanitation worker dies while cleaning the sewer, nobody cares about his life),” Gautam told NewsClick.
Bezwada Wilson, national convenor of the Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA) said, "apart from privatisation, there is also an issue that women can not work under private contractor because of safety purposes. Prime Minister Narendra Modi washed the feet of sanitation workers at Kumbh Mela and now Adityanath is bent on privatising this sector due to which many people will lose their job. The government is not concern for sanitation workers as they belongs to Dalit community and are politically not sound.”