On June 19th, the Punjab government announced its intention to regularise all safai karamcharis (sanitation workers) and sewermen working under contracts with various municipalities in the state. A virtual cabinet meeting headed by chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh directed the department of personnel to facilitate a proposal to enact legislation and regularize the contractual employees of urban local bodies. Around 4,500 employees would benefit from this decision, stated the local bodies minister Brahm Mohindra. This was most likely the result of the scheduled meeting that occurred on June 16 between the sanitation workers and the Punjab government.
For the past few weeks, one could see heaps of garbage along the roads and other places in Punjab. In Mohali, Kharar, and Derabassi the garbage has not been lifted for the last around 20 days. The recent rains have made the situation even tougher especially in Kharar where the roads are covered in garbage, making the movement of people tough.
It was the direct consequence of workers protesting throughout the state including Pathankot, Hoshiarpur Bathinda, Patiala, Barnala, Sangrur, Faridkot, Mohali among others since May 13. The Union includes over 30,000 workers. Its president from Faridkot has stated that the state government has not regularised their job for many years. They demand an end to the 'thekedari' (contractual) system and regularise them. He has accused that promotions of previously hired employees have not been carried out for years nor have they received their pending Dearness allowance arrears.
The president from Patiala has added that workers are paid a mere Rs 7,653 per month, despite working for the last 10 to 15 years. Mahesh Kumar, the president of sanitation workers in Kharar expressed their major demands being regularisation of sanitation workers, regularisation of workers working as ‘Mohalla Sudhar Workers’, implementation of the pension scheme, and their payment as per the Pay Commission.
The sanitation workers have genuine demands which they have been raising for a long time but the government was not listening to them which pushed them to take these steps. On 18th June, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Badal had urged chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh to talk to ‘safai workers’ directly. He had warned of the possibility of the state facing other diseases besides Covid-19 if the agitation doesn’t end.
As stated earlier, the virtual meeting had decided to accept most of the workers’ demands. However, employees hired through contractors via outsourcing cannot be regularised or hired by the government through direct contracts, as per the existing law as laid down by the apex court and other rules.
Brahm Mohindra has claimed that the government will sympathetically look into the demands of another 15,000 safai karamcharis and sewermen who are working with the contractors as they have full sympathy with them. As of now though, the garbage keeps on piling up as the strike still continues with no other response from the government. What do you guys think about this? Was the complete strike inevitable? Was the response to the strike adequate?
This article has been written by Ruchi Thakur for The Paradigm
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