Contract Sanitation Workers Win Permanency Yet Again while Modi Sarkar Repeals Workers’ Rights

The New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) joins its affiliate Kachra Vahatuk Shramik Sangh (KVSS) and its members in celebrating the regularisation of 580 contract sanitation workers employed by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM).

An order of the Industrial Tribunal, Mumbai (IT), of 22 March 2021 which has only just been made available ensures permanency for the victorious workers retrospectively with effect from the year in which they first completed 240 days of work. It holds the entire arrangement of contractors and sub-contractors put in place by the MCMG to be entirely illegal.

Municipal sanitation workers across our country come from the historically discriminated dalit community. They are employed through contracts which label them as volunteers, honorarium workers, NGO or kutumbashree volunteers or contract workers all of which are designed to deny them the status of a worker thereby denying them what is due to a worker as per law including a weekly holiday, paid sick leave and annual leave, overtime wages and social security. They work under frighteningly unsafe conditions and earn a fraction of the wages earned by regular employees doing the same work.

Sanitation workers have been at the frontlines of our towns and cities fighting the pandemic and everything that has preceded it. They work at their own risk to keep peoples spaces clean from all forms of waste a lot of which is toxic and hazardous. They still remain amongst the most disenfranchised amongst workers.

All this in the time of covid, in the time of Prime Minister Narendra Modi dishonestly saying that he and his BJP government stand with ‘covid warriors’, at a time in which government has blown away vast sums of money on ‘Swachh Bharat’ which has mostly landed in the hands of private contractors.

The award of the Indistrial Tribunal comes at the end of 22 years from when the agitation of the 580 workers first began. 7 years were spent before the Labour Commissioner and the last 15 before the Tribunal. Let this speak to both executive and judiciary that half the life of the workers has gone to just get here. In mirror agitations, the very same KVSS set precedent in 2006 and 2017 when the Supreme Court upheld the regularisation of 1200 and 2700 contract sanitation workers respectively. These and a great many other precedents not withstanding it would be unsurprising if the venal political class and a mean bureaucracy will ensure that this week’s Industrial tribunal order is challenged and allowed to run its course through the High Court and the Supreme Court. Another decade may just pass.

It is the very rights won through this agitation – the right to a regular decent paying 8 hour a day job with a weekly holiday, sick leave, holiday pay, healthcare benefits and contributions to a retirement fund – that are sought to be taken away by Mr. Modi and his BJP government’s Labour Codes.

Let those who seek to delay justice to the working class in the hope that workers will get exhausted and give up, know that this agitation will not give up.

Let those who believe they have succeeded in eroding workers’ rights in the country take note, this struggle and every other struggle, the struggle of the working class shall tear the Labour Codes asunder.

The victory today is for equal pay for equal work, a victory for the elemental worker rights and a defeat for discrimination.

As we celebrate let the word go out that the democratic and militant working class will not give up. It will not give in to injustice. It will not be cawed down by the content efforts of both government and capital to demean and subordinate. This fight, our fight will go on, a fight for justice, for fairness, for dignity and equity.

And never forget as this agitation shows – 22 years and counting – the working class is indefatigable.

Gautam Mody
General Secretary