Ground Reports

Disgruntled Workers Echo Social Security & Scrapping Of Contract Labour Amid Election Noise

Karnataka: Wage disparity, exploitative working conditions and continuous struggle of the workers reflect the growing resentment against the government.

By Saurav Kumar, 30 Apr 2023

Civic Workers on Strike © Saurav Kumar

The state of Karnataka is embracing assembly polls to take place on May 10. With the political parties in fray campaigning their agendas, workers across sectors in the state are echoing to safeguard their rights.

Scrap Contract Labour

Civic workers in Karnataka also known as pourakarmikas have been reeling in unbearable socio-economic disparity when it comes to the wages, benefits and contractual working system.

The state has 41,300 sanitation workers out of whom 12,300 are loaders and 753 underground drainage cleaners.

According to sweeper Rani Devi (45), pourakarmikas who predominantly belong to Dalit community are engaged in caste ordained occupation of solid waste management, which is a core & essential work of the urban local body under extremely vulnerable and exploitative conditions, without minimum wages or leave.

Rani lamented the government and said, “the govt is going back on its assurance and defrauding the workers by issuing draft notifications calling for applications for 11,133 pourakarmikas posts across the State.”

As per Karnataka State Safai Karamchari Commission, only 10,755 civic workers in BBMP out of 54,512 are permanent.

Dysfunctional Suvidha Cabin © Saurav Kumar

Narsappa G, a 45-year-old sweeper undertakes sweeping the streets of Roopena Agrahara in Bommanahalli region of South Bengaluru. As a contractual worker he doesn’t have a fixed monthly income making him vulnerable to job insecurity.

Narsappa told Mojo Story that, “I have been working for the BBMP for 13 years but my fate hangs in uncertainty due to the contractual system of the government. It should go away to secure our lives.”

“My daily earning by sweeping streets is nearly Rs. 466 per day which accounts to Rs. 14,000 in a month is not enough to run a family in the city of Bengaluru” added Narsappa.

Moreover, Suvidha cabins built by the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) with various facilities for pourakarmikas are of no use to the workers. A lock is often seen hanging on the gate of the Suvidha cabin in Roopena Agrahara. Reasons behind its dysfunctionality are unknown to workers.

Basavaraj Bommai led the BJP government after facing the heat of the indefinite strike of civic workers had announced converting jobs of contract workers into permanent but it was not implemented.

M Shivanna Kote, the Chairperson of Karnataka Safai Karamchari Commission is known for representing the demands of sanitation workers.

M Shivanna said, “After constant efforts, the Bommai government agreed to regularise 25,000 pourakarmikas. 11,133 applications for the post were released and the rest would be done after elections.”

But regularisation of a limited number of pourakarmikas did not go well with the union representing the workers.

Clifton’ D Rozario, member, BBMP Pourakarmika Association affiliated to All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) told Mojo Story, “During the strike of pourakarmikas in 2022 many promises were made by the government to be fulfilled in three. Two most important among them was to regularise sweepers and secondly, drivers, loaders, cleaners and underground drainage workers would be taken out of the contract system and made part of the direct payment system. These were written assurances of the government that did not turn into reality.”

ASHA workers on Protest © Saurav Kumar

Exclusion of Mid Day Meal workers and ASHA

Mid Day Meal (MDM) workers seems to be in no less exclusion in the state of Karnataka. Nearly 1.2 lakh midday meal workers in Karnataka earn an honorarium of Rs. 2000 – 3000 per month.

Mallamma, a 35-year-old midday meal worker based in Hoskote taluk of Bengaluru Rural district said, “We serve children in government schools nurturing their future but the monthly honorarium of Rs. 3000 keeps our future in the dark. The meagre amount doesn’t get paid regularly making survival impossible. Being part of the Midday meal union she participated in the protest in Bengaluru demanding honorarium increase.”

Speaking on the issue, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) leader representing Midday meal workers S. Varalakshmi termed the BS Bommai led government an anti-worker government.

She said, “Midday meal workers getting Rs. 3000 for survival is inhuman and unacceptable character of the government. But there has been constant resistance demanding rights for 1.2 lakh workers.”

Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) are another section of workers who have been hitting the roads with demands of decent wages and social security measures.

Narayani, who has been working as ASHA in North Bengaluru region earns a meagre amount of Rs. 7000 including Rs. 150 incentive paid for each activity undertaken.

Narayani told Mojo Story, “We have staged protests against pay disparity of the government but it has been falling on deaf ears of the government. 42,000 health workers being ignored should be a matter of shame for those in power.”

Gig Workers © Saurav Kumar

Uncertainty of Gig workers

Gig workers can be considered the fastest growing informal workforce in the city of Bengaluru.

Rohit (27) and Usmaan (29) two youth hailing from the state of West Bengal work for the Urban Company but are not sure of their future discourse.

Reason remains the arbitrary job losses that occur more often around them. As per Usmaan, he earned nearly Rs. 20,000 by providing home cleaning service in big apartments but due to unknown reason his working account was closed by the company one morning thus resulting in joblessness for a span of 10 days.

Usmaan revealed, “The rating of every worker is a crucial parameter to be in a job. Despite having a good rating of 4.5 out 5 my account was withheld and reasons were cited by its officials. This proves our vulnerability.”

As per Usmaan, the state government should have laws to prevent their fallout from the job.

It is to be noted that as per a report of the NITI Aayog, India is home to 7.7 million gig workers which is expected to expand to 2.35 crore (23.5 million) workers by 2029-30.

The BJP-led government in Karnataka crossed its limits when it passed the Factories (Karnataka Amendment) Bill, 2023 without a debate in the Legislative Assembly and this was done to boost the manufacturing sector.

The amendment mandated an increase in the number of hours of work from the existing nine hours up to 12 hours.

With workers in Karnataka on the receiving end, the decision was vehemently opposed by the workers’ unions.

Karnataka CITU Secretary Mahantesh K told Mojo Story, “The right to work for eight hours was the result of workers’ demands that took place in the Haymarket of Chicago and gets celebrated as International Workers’ Day but the BJP government has proved it is an anti-worker government.”

Mahantesh added, “The Factories Act in post independent India was due to efforts of workers mobilisation on the demand. The 12 hour work is being resisted by the workers at all possible levels.”