January 7, 2017 3:50:50 am
Protesting against unequal pay and poor working conditions, Mumbai’s sanitation workers turned up in huge numbers at Azad Maidan Friday. In a rally organised by the National Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) and supported by former JNU students’ union leader Kanhaiya Kumar and Dalit political activist Jignesh Mewani, the workers raised demands for minimum wages, permanent jobs and equal status.
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“Today’s rally is a celebration of the Bombay High Court’s ruling that upheld the rights of these workers, while striking down the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) petition,” said N Vasudevan, President of NTUI.
In December, while hearing a plea filed by the civic body challenging an Industrial Tribunal order that directed it to extend all benefits and grant permanency to the 2,700 workers of the Kachra Vahtuk Shramik Sangh once they completed 240 days in service, the High Court asked for its order to be implemented within three months. Speaking at the rally, Kumar said that he sympathised with the workers’ cause. ]“I have come to stand by my future colleagues. Today, I am a student but after I complete my PhD, even I will have to labour like them,” said Kumar.
The workers raised the call for azaadi from jativad, ‘bamanvad, manuvad, among other social issues in response to Kumar’s fiery slogans. According to the organisers, 3,500 safai (sanitation) workers had gathered at the Maidan to raise their demands. Some workers even joined the protest with black cloths tied around their mouths as a form of protest.
“I have been working as a safai worker for over a decade now. Yet I receive a meagre salary of Rs 7,000 a month, which is insufficient for my family’s needs. This rally has given us a platform to raise all our demands. It has been two years since the government promised us a minimum wage of Rs 14,000 but it is still not implemented,” said Seema Carpenter, a cleaner from Malad. The NTUI also sent a delegation to Maharashtra’s Chief Secretary Swadhin Kshatriya to push for the implementation of the High Court order.
“The delegation has reported that the Chief Secretary has agreed to consider bringing together the Municipal Commissioners of Pune, Thane, Navi Mumbai and other major cities on Tuesday to discuss the matter,” added Vasudevan.
However, the BMC plans to raise the matter in the Supreme Court now. “The workers’ union failed to submit the list of 2,700 workers along with valid identity proofs. Besides, we had given work to the NGOs who had approached the BMC to work on voluntary basis and we had never directly hired these workers on any contract. The High Court had given orders without considering these essential facts, which is why we will approach the Supreme Court,” said a senior civic official from the BMC.