The All India Municipal Workers Federation (affiliated to AICCTU) embarked on a country-wide resistance and demand day on September 12, calling for necessary steps to ensure the rights and dignity of lakhs of municipal workers across the country.
Lakhs of workers, predominantly Dalit and largely women, are employed in the caste-ordained occupation as safaikaramcharis across the country, in every city, town and village, to sweep the streets, clean the drains, door to door collection of garbage, etc. and are compelled to work in the most unscientific, unhygienic and dehumanising conditions to protect the health of everyone else at the cost of their own. Bending their backs to sweep, pushing broken down push-carts, driving stench-filled vehicles, safaikaramcharis are forced to handle all forms of rotting garbage, human/animal waste and carcasses with bare hands, without even a single holiday, being denied any job/wage/social security and not even provided drinking water, toilets, rest-rooms, etc. and are subject to daily harassment and atrocities. This is an attack on the life and dignity of lakhs of workers in direct contravention of their Constitutional rights.
The condition of municipal workers has been deteriorating with rampant informalisation and contractualization. The Labour Codes that practically put a deal of approval on such inhuman working conditions will only worsen the situation.
It is also most shameful that 77 years after Independence the abhorrent practice of manual scavenging continues till this day. Not only does this result in the loss of the lives of workers, but is a daily assault on their dignity. The toilets with soak pits, constructed under Swaach Bharat, have instituinalised manual scavenging.
Protests were held in Karnataka, UP, Bihar and Tamil Nadu among other states. A letter with the charter of demands was also sent to the Prime Minister:
The contract system must be scrapped in all rural and urban local bodies, and all existing term contract employees, honorarium workers, direct payment workers, daily wage workers must be regularised and paid wages and given all benefits on par with regular local body employees as per the VII Pay Commission and on the basis of the principle “equal pay for equal work”.
Regular employees should be given pay revision and other benefits in the light of the recommendations and decisions made by the VII Pay Commission. This should also be extended to all other municipal workers including contract workers, term contract employees, honorarium workers, direct payment workers, daily wage workers, etc.
All contract workers, term contract employees, honorarium workers, direct payment workers, daily wage workers and regular workers should be given pension under the old pension scheme. The new pension scheme should be withdrawn.
Manual Scavenging must be eradicated and the Dalits should be emancipated from all forms of caste-based discrimination.
On the death of contract workers, term contract employees, honorarium workers, direct payment workers, daily wage workers or regular workers, Rs. 10 lakhs should be immediately disbursed to their dependents, and a dependent should be taken into service under compassionate appointment.
All workers in the local body should be extended and ensured the benefit of EPF and ESI.
Drinking water, restroom, toilet, lockers, safety wear, changing room and other necessary facilities should be arranged at the workplace for safaikaramcharis, in all urban local bodies and gram panchayats.
Dignified houses should be provided to all Safaikaramcharis and other local body workers. Proper and free education should be ensured for children of Safaikaramcharis and they should also be provided free health services.
We condemn the introduction of GPS watches for safaikaramcharis in various municipalities across the country as classiest and casteist, and this practice must be immediately stopped.
Officials and society must cease their casteist and classist prejudices against safaikarmachir by treating them with respect and dignity.
Sexual harassment of women at the workplace should be addressed immediately. Gender and caste discrimination of safaikaramcharis should be abolished.
We oppose and demand withdrawal of the anti-workers Labour Codes, especially the intent to institutionalise contract labour in sweeping and housekeeping.