What about Swachh Bharat's foot soldiers?

While ‘Swachh Bharat’ is a much talked about campaign by the central as well as state government, most of its foot soldiers continue to be neglected. Thousands of conservancy workers gathered at the Azad Maidan yesterday under the leadership of National Trade Union Initiative (NTUI), demanding equal rights and minimum wages. Though in February 2015 minimum wages were agreed upon to contractual conservancy workers, they are not yet paid these. Workers from across Maharashtra were present at the spot demanding inclusion in the same.

According to the NTUI, even as cities are expanding and population is increasing, the number of permanent safai workers is decreasing because of retirements, deaths and no new recruitment. This shortfall is filled by workers through contractors, under whom they are exploited with no appropriate remuneration and lack of safety equipment.

Popular youth leaders Kanhaiyya Kumar from JNU and Jignesh Mewani from Gujarat were there to lend their support to the workers.

Won battle in court
Milind Ranade, secretary of the NTUI, said, “It is very difficult to organize contract workers. Everywhere in India these Dalit contract safai workers have to work in inhuman working conditions without safety, social security and minimum wages. If workers try to organize themselves they are sacked immediately. There is no legal protection for these contract workers. In Mumbai, hundreds of workers have died or have suffered permanent disability due to accidents and till date, nobody is compensated for the loss.”

He said, “Now when they have won the battle for minimum wages in court, the administration is delaying them their rights for over 22 months. The government of Maharashtra announced minimum wages of Rs 14,000 for such municipal workers on February 24, 2015. Till date, this has not been implemented anywhere in Maharashtra. As per Minimum Wages Act and Payment of Wages Act, paying less than minimum wages is not acceptable and is subject to fine. There are more than 35,000 such contract safai workers in Maharashtra.”

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