“You are all aware that the contractors who employ you are the ones pocketing your minimum wages,” said Kumar. “But you have the power not only to clean the garbage of this city, but also the garbage in the minds of the politicians who ask for your votes.”

Mevani, who is leading a similar agitation of sanitation workers in Gujarat, used his speech to tear into the Bharatiya Janata Party government’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. “When Swachh Bharat was launched, the prime minister and big Bollywood stars posed for photos in which they pretended to sweep roads,” said Mevani, who went on to ask workers to stay firm in their demand for minimum wages, even if they had to strike work. “Don’t worry about garbage accumulating on the roads, because if that happens, all those Bollywood stars will be inspired by Swachh Bharat and clean it themselves.”

Posters mocking the central government's Swachh Bharat Abhiyan at the rally.

Posters mocking the central government’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan at the rally.

Equal pay for equal work

Besides demanding minimum wages and arrears, sanitation workers at the rally also demanded an implementation of the October 2016 Supreme Court judgement allowing temporary contract workers to receive equal pay for equal work. This would mean that contracted safai karamcharis would be entitled to the same monthly wage of Rs 24,000 as their counterparts employed by Mumbai’s municipal corporation.

More than just equal pay as temporary workers, however, the workers’ union demanded an end to the contract labour system altogether, and permanent jobs for safai karamcharis directly with municipal bodies.

“The contractors don’t treat us as humans, and offer no support at all in cases of accidents, which happen quite frequently when we work in the gutters,” said Sachin Goru, a drainage worker in central Mumbai who suffered a rib fracture when he accidentally fell inside a gutter while on the job two years ago. Because the injury has not healed fully, Goru can now only work short half shifts. “The contractor has now reduced my wages by half, but till today, I haven’t received any money for my many medical expenses.”

Drainage workers like Shivaji Bhadekar and Sachin Goru wore black bands over their mouths to protest their silenced voices.

Drainage workers like Shivaji Bhadekar and Sachin Goru wore black bands over their mouths to protest their silenced voices.

Mangesh Kamble, another drainage worker, claimed that many contractors do not even keep official records or time logs of sanitation workers’ hours. “This allows contractors to claim in labour courts that we were not working with them at all, or that we were employed as labour in their private shops, not for sanitation work,” said Kamble. “For a while, my contractor has also not been giving payment slips for the salary, and it turned out that the PF [Provident Fund] documents they gave us were fraudulent.”

Through the rally, the workers’ union hoped to get a meeting directly with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, to put forth their demands. However, the union has now been granted a meeting with the state’s chief secretary on January 10.

Source: Scroll