by the sweat of the poor
A report from Karnataka on the strugle by Bangolore municipal cleaning
workers for justice
The Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BMP) is responsible for maintaining the
city of Bangalore clean and beautiful. Nobody would dispute the fact that
the BMP has been eminently successful in its endeavour. The city lives
up to its name of the garden city of the country.
The task of keeping the city clean is truly enormous. Bangalore has been
divided into over 140 health wards (and 86 packages), each needing between
50 to 100 cleaning workers (Powrakarmikas) to keep them clean. These workers
are mostly dalits. Over 80 percent of them are women. Many are migrants
to the city from other districts of Karnataka,- and from neighbouring
states. They constitute the backbone of the structure that keeps the city
clean and beautiful.
In the early nineties the BMP decided that the task of keeping the city
clean was too enormous for it to do on its own. It took the plea that
subcontracting out the basic task of cleaning the city would increase
the efficiency of the activity. Since then, there has been a progressive
contracting out of the work of cleaning the city. Presently there are
contractors operating out of over 80 wards, and employing around 6000
contract municipal cleaning workers.
The Bangalore Mahanagara Palike Guttige Powrakarmikara Sangha is a registered
trade union representing contract municipal workers of the BMP. The Sangha
has been carrying on a protracted struggle with the BMP for getting the
contract workers their legal rights.
A Support Group for Contract Powrakarmikas was formed by various human
rights organisations, autonomous groups, PUCL, and concerned individuals
to support the Powrakarmikas and the Sangha in their struggle for justice.
The Fact Finding Mission was constituted by the Support' Group to enquire
into the details of the struggle, the legality of the demands made by
the struggle, and the living and working conditions of the Powrakarmikas.
This report is a result of an independent investigation carried out by
the Fact Finding Mission.
The Powrakarmika Struggle
The Bangalore Mahanagara Palike Guttige Powrakarmika Sangha has been carrying
on a struggle on behalf of the contract municipal workers of the BMP for
the last six years, It has employed various forms of non-violent struggles
to make its demands known, and to seek redressal for the various forms
of illegality in the employment conditions of the contract workers.
The present intensive phase of the struggle has been going on for the
past six months. It has involved intensive mobilisation of workers from
the different wards in the city. The Sangha focussed its struggle on the
office of the commissioner of the BMP, being the principal employer of
the contract workers. It held several large dharnas consisting of more
than a thousand workers outside the office of the BMP at the Bangalore
Mahanagara Palike. The Sangha representatives submitted several memoranda
to the BMP Commissioner and to the office of the Labour Commissioner.
The struggle concentrated on the issue of regulation of work of the contract
employees. It demanded that all the employees had to be paid the statutory
minimum wage for this category of work. The union said that the current
wages paid to the workers was far below any statutory minimum wage. The
wages paid to women was Rs.800-900 per month, and to men Rs. 1000-1100
per month. As against this, the union claimed that workers should be paid
minimum wages of Rs.71.80 per day, or Rs.2146 per month of 30 days. In
a clarification to the union, the Labour Department had issued a memo
dated 31-10-2001 that the Gazette Notification number SKK 25 LMW 88, dated
27-11-1993, specified a minimum wage for all workers employed in road
building and maintenance, and construction of buildings. The Notification
included sweepers and scavengers. As per this, the current minimum wages
for that category was Rs.71.80 per day.
The union also demanded recognition of the workers and safeguard of their
work through issue of identity cards and pay slips. It demanded that the
BMP officials should take steps to prevent any form of harassment at the
work place and to ensure that conditions of work are regulated as per
the guidelines issues to the contractors in the tender documents. In order
to strengthen the struggle the union also raised a conciliation process
with the Labour Department. It went around the wards collecting for the
first time personal details of the workers, for submission to the Labour
Department for the conciliation process.
As a result of the struggle and the discussions, the BMP Commissioner
made public statements before the workers sitting on dharna that they
would be paid minimum wages as per the norms applicable to construction
workers. He passed an order, dated August 13, 2001, requiring payment
of minimum wages with immediate effect, and explicitly stating payment
The struggle reached a crisis with the workers from around forty wards
refusing to accept payment at the existing rate for the months of November
and December 2001. The new contracts of the BMP had been executed from
the month of November, and the workers had been hopeful because of the
assurances of the BMP Commissioner that they would be paid wages according
to the Minimum Wages Act with the commencement of the new contract. The
workers resisted threats by the contractors to abandon the contracts,
and inducement of enhancement of the wages by Rs. l00 per month. As of
date, around a thousand workers from twenty wards are still holding out,
without accepting wages for the two months.
The BMP Commissioner passed another order dated December 14, 2001, confirming
immediate payment of minimum wages. The other substantive issues addressed
in the order including: payment of wages by cheque/cash; notification
of a fixed time and place in each ward for payment of wages; the presence
of senior and junior health officers of the BMP to oversee the payment
of wages; health officers and other staff of the BMP to ensure that the
contractors behaved properly with the workers. The notification also stated
clearly that the salary for the month of November should be paid by December
18th. However, even the second order of the Commissioner could not break
the status quo.
At the arbitration proceedings before the Labour Commissioner on January
17th, 2002 attended by the BMP Commissioner and the union representatives,
the Labour Commissioner revealed that as on the date the contract BMP
workers were not included under the schedule for minimum wages. The whole
process of their notification under the schedule, and fixing a minimum
wage would have to be commenced from a scratch. The Labour Commissioner
said that his department would commence the process immediately. The immediate
attempt then was to work out a compromise wage to be paid in the interim,
white the process of notification for minimum wages was carried out.
Legality of Demands
Perennial nature of work: The first issue is of employment of contract
workers for the job. The work is of a perennial nature. Under the Contract
labour (Regulation & Abolition) Act, 1970, the government is empowered
to abolish by notification employment of contract labour in an establishment
where work carried out by the contract worker is necessary to the work
earned out by the establishment and is also perennial in nature. In the
context, the BMP went contrary to the spirit of the Contract Workers'
(Regulation and Abolishment) Act in allowing contracting out of the work.
Wages to workers: The payment of wages to the workers at Rs.800-900
for women and Rs. 1000 for men raises several issues of the law. First,
the law (Article 14 of the Constitution and Equal Remunerations Act, 1976)
specifies equal wages for equal work in the same establishment. In the
city, permanent employees of the BMP also do the same work as undertaken
by the contract workers. The permanent employees are paid upward of Rs.
4000 plus various other benefits. This gross difference in wages for the
same work in the same establishment is definitely contrary to the law.
Further, Rule 25 of the Contract Labour (Regulation & Abolishment)
(Karnataka) Rules, 1974 states that "in case where workmen employed
by the contractor perform the same or similar kind of work as the workmen
directly employed by the principal employer of the establishment the wage
rates, holidays, hours of work and other conditions of service of the
workmen shall be the same as are applicable to workmen directly employed
by the principal employer of the establishment on the same or similar
kind of work.".
Minimum wages: The tender document for contracting out the municipal
cleaning work clearly stipulates that the workers should be paid "fair
and reasonable wages, which shall not be less than the minimum wages fixed
by the government...". The responsibility for implementing this condition
of the tender falls squarely on the BMP. The fact then is that the BMP
was acting in a breach of its contract in not ensuring the fixation of
a minimum wage. Also, employing workers at salaries grossly below the
prevailing stipulated minimum wage for similar work is tantamount to forced
labour under Article 23 of the Constitution. The illegality is compounded
in that it is an agency of the state government that is a party to this.
No regulation of employment: No worker is provided with a contract
or any other proof of her/his employment as a contract employee. The union
claimed that there were absolutely no procedures for disciplinary action,
and the contractors dismissed workers at will, without assigning any reasons.
There was no mechanism to redress any grievances. While health officers
of the BMP were designated to visit the wards, and to regulate working
conditions, the union claimed that visits were rare, and that the health
officers did not perform any regulatory role.
There are several
other issues of regulation of work that are currently being violated.
The tender document stipulates as the contractor's responsibility, to
provide: "medical aid and compensation": "first aid facility
at site"; "uniforms and badges...": "protective wherewithal
like hand gloves and mask and also gum boots for lorry loaders...".
The fact is that none of these facilities are provided.
The Contract Labour (Regulation & Abolishment) Act clearly provides
for weekly holidays and other leave facilities. None of these are made
available to the contract workers in this case.
The workers are not provided any social security benefits, including medical
benefits, PF, etc. Given that the workers are predominantly women, it
is significant that women are provided with no maternity benefits. In
many instances, women did not even have security of their work when they
were forced to go on maternity leave.
It is clear that the contractors are legally in the wrong on several scores
in the way in which the contracts are presently being carried out. It
is also clear that the BMP as the principal employer has a responsibility
for regulating the activities of its contractors, in which it has totally
Workers and their conditions of work: The Fact Finding Mission
carried out a survey over three days from January 11th to 14th. It covered
215 workers from 22 wards grouped around Kathriguppe, Gurupanapalya, Kamanahalli,
K.R. Market, Nandini Layout, and Nagapura. The teams of the Fact Finding
Mission met women and men workers in groups of ten to twenty. The issues
discussed included wages paid and mode of payment; working condition and
facilities at work place, including incidence of harassment faced at work
place; regulation of work; and living conditions.
The general findings
are as discussed below.
Wages paid and mode of payment: The standard wage paid to all workers
was Rs.800-900 per month for women and Rs. 1000 per month for men. The
wage was paid in cash. There was no fixed date and time, or place for
making payments. The agent of the contractor (mistree) would on any day
of the month take group of workers in the ward aside and pay their wages.
In general there was no record of payment made. There was no list giving
any details of the worker's names or the amount due to them. In some wards
the workers said that on occasions they were made to sign (put their thumb
impression) on a list containing only their names. There was no listing
of the wages paid to them.
There were no holidays from work. In some wards, at the discretion of
the contractor, workers would be let off early (by noon time) on some
prominent Hindu festival days. Otherwise the workers had to be at work
from 6.30 in the morning to 1.30 in the afternoon from Monday to Saturday,
and from 6.30 in the morning to 11.00 AM on Sunday. In K R Market, workers
work in two shifts, from 6.30 in the morning to 1.30 in the afternoon
and from 2.00 to 6.45 in the evening. A forty six and a half hour work-week.
The wages at Rs.800 per month for women works out to an average of Rs.27
The women were asked about the wage difference between them and men. All
said that they worked at least as hard as the men, and deserved to be
paid the same wage. They said that work requiring greater strength was
done by men. This included loading the lorries and clearing big stones.
However, women also said that if required they also could do the same
Attendance was taken
thrice every day, at 6.30 and 10.00 in the morning and 1.30 in the afternoon.
The workers had to assemble at the attendance place from wherever they
were at work. Even a five minutes delay meant that the worker was not
allowed to report for work on the day. Moreover, a deduction of Rs.40
was made for each day of absence, as against the actual average daily
wage of Rs.27 for women. One worker being absent from work did not mean
that some of the work remained undone. The other workers had to work that
much more to ensure that all work was completed. The contractor thus did
not lose any revenue because of the absence of the worker. This was just
extra money in his pocket. There were additional deductions made for "deficiencies"
in work. This could include a fine of up to Rs. 10 for any garbage dropped
on the way - or as much as 40 percent of the daily wage for a single example
of "deficiency". Finally the decision of "deficiency"
in work and the penalty to be imposed was at the sole discretion of the
The Rs.27 per day for women had to cover all their expenses, and leave
some money over to sustain their families. Some women came from a distance
requiring them to take a bus. They spent up to Rs. 10/- per day on bus
travel. One woman had to spend as much as Rs. 14 on bus charge. Almost
all of them had no time to eat any food before coming to work, and needed
to spend some money on tea and snacks to sustain them through the day.
At the end of the month, after deductions for forced absences and for
necessary daily expenses, the money left over for the women from their
hard labour could only be a pittance.
The women were asked if they did other work to augment their earnings.
While in some wards women said that they took in work like rolling agarbathis,
or went out and did domestic work, many claimed that they were just too
exhausted at the end of the day to do any more work. Some of them had
husbands or children who were also wage earners, or lived in joint families
with other wage earners. However, there were women who ran households
on only their single income. One woman had a husband who had lost both
his legs in an accident at the work place. Another had a husband who was
an acute TB patient and could not do any sustained work. It remains a
mystery how these households even managed to meet the basic sustenance
requirements. These are issues of slum politics and livelihood that need
to be explored further.
It was interesting to note that with the stepping up of union protest
since November, 2001, and with the workers in many wards refusing to accept
anything less than the minimum wage, the contactors had through their
agents started offering wage increases, of up to Rs.100 per month.
Conditions of work and facilities at the workplace: On an average
a worker had to leave the house by 5.30 in the morning to be at the workplace
by 6.30. We can assume that her day started at 5 in the morning. Many
women walked long distances to the workplace, in order to save the bus
fare. On a daily wage of Rs.27, every rupee counted. They walked in groups,
to avoid the hazards on the road at that time. The hazards varied from
local hoodlums to stray dogs. Stray dogs had bitten one woman eight times
in around ten years that she had been employed. There were many who had
been bitten by dogs more than once. Even among the women who took a bus
to work the day started very early. One woman took the bus from Ashoknagar
to her workplace at Kamanahalli, spending Rs.14 every day. She had to
walk for half an hour from her residence to the bus stop, leaving her
house, on her own, before 5 in the morning. Another woman who lived by
an army barrack, in Chikbanaswadi, had to face a barrage of wolf whistles
and rude comments every morning on her way to work.
At this time of the day the women did not have time to either cook or
eat any breakfast. All the women said that they left home without even
a cup of tea. Many waited till 3.30 or 4 in the evening, when they were
back home from work, to cook and eat their only proper meal for the day.
At work they had to make do with the occasional cup of tea. And the occasional
leftovers wrapped in paper from some residence or hotel around the workplace.
There was no facility for drinking water, or even water to wash up at
the workplace. The women said that no residents offered them drinking
water. After all they belonged to the lowest rung of the caste hierarchy,
and Bangalore for all its claims to modernity is as caste conscious as
any other city in India. In fact the women said that if they needed water
they went to the hotels, which were more modern in their outlook than
the middle class households!
An interesting feature of the workplace was the absence of any discrimination
among the workers themselves. While a majority of them were from the dalit
community, many were from other scheduled castes (SCs), like Odders and
Kurubas, and even from other backward castes (OBCs) like Gowdas. At the
workplace there was no discrimination with respect to being together,
sharing their belongings, or the type of work done.
The workplace was just an open space to gather in. There were no facilities
of a room to rest, or even to keep the implements. In only one ward at
Kathriguppe was there a room in which the workers kept all their implements.
The workers themselves arranged the room and the old person who took care
of the implements! The contractor or his agent had nothing to do with
getting this facility. In other wards the workers either kept their implements
in the residence of some of the more accessible residents, or carried
the implements every day with them. The open fields or bushes beside the
roads were the only facilities they had to answer calls of nature. Jayamma
from Girinagar said," when we go to answer calls of nature, the contractor's
agent follows us and asks what we were doing wasting our time!"
The implements given to the women were a broom and a dustpan (mumti).
The men had a larger mumti, a sickle, and a spade. None of them had uniforms,
protective gloves, or boots. These are very specifically mentioned in
the contract document of the Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BMP). Many women
complained that even for these minimum implements often they had to pay
their own money. A broom would last only ten to fifteen days, while the
contractor normally allowed a replacement only once a month. The physical
effort the women had to undergo with a worn out broom was much higher.
They had to stoop lower and sweep that many more times. Many found it
more acceptable to purchase their own replacement. The mumtis given were
replaced only once annually. Often the women had to work with leaky mumtis,
handling fecal matter and all kinds of decomposed garbage. The women also
said that on the occasion of losing any implement the entire amount of
a new implement was deducted from their wages.
The long hours of strenuous work, the terrible work conditions, the lack
of proper food took a terrible toll on the health of the Powrakarmikas.
All the women had rashes covering their hands. They got these primarily
from pulling out the Parthenium weed found all over. Some women said that
when they tried to use waste plastic bags to protect their already hurt
hands while pulling the weed, the mistree, for slowing the work, shouted
them at. In addition, all complained of severe back pain due to continuous
bending during work. All of them had swollen and painful elbow joints
from hours of continuous sweeping. They had all suffered cuts on their
hands and feet from handling waste, which needed immediate medical treatment.
A large majority of them complained of respiratory problems. All these
were the standard hazards at the workplace. The workers on an average
said that they spent around Rs l000 every year on medical expenses. They
had to depend often on private medical facilities, as the government facilities
took time, which they could not afford.
There were also numerous
incidents of severe accidents during work. One woman, Marakka, who worked
in ward 54 A, was run over by a truck while she was sweeping the road.
As the other workers immediately rushed to the place, stopped the truck
and created a scene, the contractor was forced to pay Rs.3000 plus hospitalisation
expenses. The woman still cannot walk properly. She has got no other compensation,
other than the hospitalisation costs. Another woman lost the use of an
arm when a heavy stone from the truck fell on the arm while she was loading
the garbage truck. A worker suffered severe fractures when a cart he was
loading, overturned on him. Muniyamma from Nagpura ward burnt her hand
badly while she was clearing garbage, because of the bursting of an unused
cracker. Aiyamma from Mico Layout died when her saree caught fire while
she was burning garbage. The contractor gave only Rs.5000 as compensation
as against the Rs.50, 000 spent by her family in an attempt to save her
life. She was the main wage earner in the family. Her daughter, Meenakshi,
says that to this day the family is repaying the loans. Workers claimed
that accidents involving vehicles were common. In most cases there was
no compensation of even the medical expenses. And in most cases the worker
was not assured of her job when she came back to work.
Harassment at the workplace was a daily event. The workers had to routinely
face abuse from the mistrees.
None of the women
reported any incidence of overt sexual harassment. However, the union
activists mentioned a few specific instances of harassment by the contractor
and the mistree. It was interesting to hear from women in the Kamanahalli
ward that they would not tolerate any such behaviour or derogatory caste
based comments in their ward. This is an area where the Dalit Sangharsh
Samiti (DSS) is very active, and the women referred to the DSS as their
source of strength.
There was a high degree of alcohol, tobacco, and beetle leaf consumption
among the workers. Both men and women said that they had to handle decomposed
garbage in its worst forms. The garbage often contained used sanitary
napkins loosely thrown in, fecal matter, etc. They had to handle all this
without any proper implements, and often with their bare hands. The situation
was even worse during rains, when the workers had to handle wet and slimy
garbage, which invariably leaked all over them. One woman held out her
hands and said that with these bare hands she had shifted decomposed carcasses
of so many dead animals. What more could be asked of her? The only way
in which they could withstand the filth and smell was through deadening
their sensibilities through some form of substance abuse. The effect of
this on both the fragile health and economic condition of the workers
could only be very detrimental.
Pregnant women had
no maternity leave, no special consideration of the work to be done. There
was no guarantee of their getting back the job when they came back. In
some cases the husbands or substitute workers were allowed to take their
place in their absence.
There were, of course, no crèche facilities for children. Most
women left their children with others, including aged parents living with
them; or in the care of older children; or with neighbours. There were
instances of women having to bring their children to the workplace, and
leave them under a tree or any other shelter in the neighbourhood. Gangamma
from Kathriguppe pointed to her son who is a young contract municipal
worker, and related how she had been forced to carry the boy around with
her to work. The children would then be exposed to the same long hours,
inclement weather, and pollution.
Regulation of work: As stated, in most instances the mistree was
the only authority for regulation of work. His exercise of authority was
arbitrary, and there were no written guidelines to be followed in his
exercise of authority. Many workers had not even set eyes on the contractor.
As such, their only experience of authority was as vested in the mistree.
They had no concept of a channel for arbitration or redress of grievances.
There is an official
of the BMP known as the Medical Officer of Health (MOH), who is supposed
to visit and inspect the conditions of work at different wards. In most
cases, the workers said that they had never met the MOH. Some said that
the MOH only came once every few months, and even during these infrequent
visits, he made no attempt to talk to individual workers. The workers
had no idea of what role the MOH was supposed to perform.
The arbitrariness of the use of authority was demonstrated well in the
incidence related by Nagalakshmi of ward 63 A. She was involved one day
in cleaning the garbage from one of the dumps. A woman from a neighbouring
house came and dumped her garbage just outside the garbage dump. The worker
remonstrated that the garbage should be put in the dump, and not outside
it. At this, the woman shouted that it was the duty of the worker to clean
the garbage and started abusing the worker. A couple of youths from the
house joined in and thrashed the worker so badly that she had to be admitted
to a hospital for two weeks. The mistree and the contractor rushed to
the spot. They found it convenient to accept the story of the middle class
woman that it was the worker who was at fault, and had started the trouble.
She was promptly dismissed from her job. Such an arbitrary dismissal,
without a formal procedure of enquiry, would never have taken place in
the case of tenured workers.
All the workers lived in slums. A small proportion of them owned the shanties
they lived in, because of the slums getting regularised. Many lived in
rented shanties in the slums. They paid rents of Rs.500 to 700 per month.
The manner in which they balanced their fragile economies to meet these
expenses is a matter for further enquiry. Some women had the support of
their husbands or children, who also worked and contributed to the running
of the house. One woman did not even have the luxury of a shanty house,
and lived as a squatter in a tent. This would probably be the case with
other women who ran their houses on their incomes.
None of the slums had toilet or water facilities. The residents went out
to answer calls of nature. The women usually managed bathing and washing
standing in a bucket in their shanties, as there were no drainage facilities.
One can very well imagine how difficult it would be for women to get ready
and leave the house early in the morning.
Most of the workers managed to send their children to school; however,
all of them said that it was with great difficulty that they managed this.
As one woman said, "we send our children to government schools where
we do not have to pay, but we still need to buy the books". Another
woman from Nandini Layout had to take her daughter out of third standard
to look after a young baby, as she did not have any other support.
The workers said that medical expenditure was a significant portion of
their expenditure. Much of the expenditure was directly related to cuts,
bruises and ailments they got from working in insanitary conditions. As
stated, workers could not go to government hospitals for small complaints,
as they just could not take time off from work. One can imagine the type
of treatment they would get from the medical quacks they went to. Many
workers also complained of chronic respiratory ailments. This is only
to be expected, given their backbreaking work in the open, under all weather
conditions, with all the pollution around, and with the food habits enforced
on them by poverty and exigencies of work. All the women said that they
could only have one proper meal after returning home in the evening. They
had to manage the whole day out working without a break, except for cups
of tea to quell their hunger. The occasional scraps of food given by residents
were the only sustenance through the day for many workers.
Alcoholism and domestic
violence were a way of life. Even many of the women said that they drank
to forget their pains and get some steep at night. All of them said that
the men drank and were often violent and abusive. One elderly woman had
to face regular violence from her grown up sons. With all this, they had
no recourse but to get ready for work early the next morning. Life had
a relentless pattern for them, broken only by illness or loss of employment.
The workers were asked what would constitute a fair wage. Most of them
said that if they were paid the minimum wage they were promised, that
was adequate. At the present extremely low level of wage of Rs.800 for
women, the minimum wage of Rs.2150 constituted a nearly two and a half
times increase. Given the uncertainty of work, the nature of hazards,
and the total lack of any social security measures, this is still not
at all a living wage. If we compare their wages with even the salaries
drawn by permanent workers of the BMP who do the same job, and who are
at the lowest rungs of salary of government employment, the contrast is
The permanent workers
are paid upward of Rs.4000 per month, with benefits of tenure, weekly
holidays and some social security. One woman had the electricity to her
shanty cut off because of non-payment of an electricity bill. To her such
an amount of money was just unachievable. She clearly stated that if we
were paid Rs. 5000 per month, we would be able to manage a decent living.
Anything less than that would only lead to a slight betterment of our
The Fact Finding Mission met the BMP Commissioner, Ashok Dalwai on
January 31,2002, at 3.30 pm at the office of the Commissioner.
The following are the highlights of the discussions.
The Commissioner said
that the BMP followed a policy of awarding contracts to the lowest tender
bids. The BMP did not give consideration to whether the contract amount
was adequate to give the workers a proper wage and benefits. The Commissioner
admitted that the present contract amount was not adequate to pay the
workers minimum wages and give them the benefits due under law. It was
the struggle of the workers that was making the BMP pay attention to the
needs of the workers. Till now attention was not given to enforcing rules
and regulations as per the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition)
Act, 1970. In the future attention would be paid to this.
The Commissioner added that to make the work easier more efficient carts
to clear the garbage have been introduced. According to him, it is more
difficult for women to push the carts; hence, the BMP was now interested
in appointing more men.
The Commissioner saw the present problem of poor working conditions as
that of the contractors not being 'professional'. If contracts were given
to 'professionals the problem would be solved. He said that in the present
context of privatisation, absorption of workers could not be considered.
It was more efficient to contract out more and more of the work. Dalwai
said that the BMP earlier used to employ its own vehicles for its cleaning
activities. It has now got most of the vehicles on contract. Even in various
departments of the BMP, staff had been reduced by 20 percent through contracting
out work. According to him, more of the work should be subcontracted.
Currently, the BMP uses 90 percent of the money it collects, by way of
taxes, to pay salaries. This should be reduced. Or else development of
the city is not possible. The only solution to reducing the wage bill,
is to employ fewer people, give them better facilities, and make them
He concluded by saying that the primary concern of the BMP was to keep
the city clean.
Attempt to meet
Bangalore Agenda Task Force (BATF)
The members of the fact-finding mission attempted to meet the BATF on
1st February 2002. Even though they had an appointment, they were informed
that the person they were to meet had another appointment and was therefore
unavailable. However, they were given a glossy BATF brochure that has
all the information concerning BATF's activities.
BATF being a citizens' body initiated by the Government is a stakeholder
in the clean Bangalore campaign. It is unfortunate that their concern
does not extend to the situation of workers keeping the city clean.
Attempt to meet Contractors
It was a futile attempt to meet the contractors, as they did not show
any interest. Repeatedly the fact-finding team tried to get an appointment,
but in vain. So the fact-finding team finally decided to give up the efforts
to meet them.
At the outset, the whole situation dearly underscores the callous manner
in which the BMP has shrugged off its responsibility towards contract
workers employed in its primary activity of keeping Bangalore city clean.
Firstly, the BMP should not have resorted to contracting out of this activity.
It is of a perennial nature, and is essential to the work earned out by
the BMP. In fact, the BMP employs tenured workers to do the same work
that the contract workers do. These tenured workers have terms and conditions
of work very different from those of the contract workers. This is not
to say that permanent workers are being compensated more than what is
due to them. Considering the nature of the work and the effort required,
even the permanent workers are being exploited. Secondly, having contracted
out the work, the BMP has done nothing to regulate the conditions of work.
The tender document
of the BMP clearly specifies the payment of a minimum wage. After ten
years of the practice of contracting out work, we find that the Labour
Department stating that the work has not even been notified for adding
to the schedule of employments with a minimum wage. There are various
other regulations relating to conditions of work clearly stipulated in
the tender document of the BMP. We find that not a single one of these
has been enforced by the BMP. The impact of this indifference can clearly
to be seen on the health and living conditions of the workers.
From the interview
with Commissioner Dalwai, it is clear that the attitude towards cleaning
operations will mean private bodies getting involved, and reduction of
employment, especially for women. He also affirmed that the BMP's attention
to the plight of workers has only been very recent and that too because
of their vociferous struggle over the past few months. As he said himself,
"the primary objective of the BMP is to keep the city clean".
Any thing else is, possibly, of secondary importance.
The contractors have all adopted a totally cavalier attitude towards their
employees to the extent that the employees did not even have a formal
contract or a document to prove their employment. The fact that there
is such uniformity in the wages paid, the hours of work, and all other
forms of regulation of work clearly shows the existence of a customary
pattern of management of work. It is impossible that the officers of the
BMP responsible for overseeing the contractors are not fully aware of
this customary pattern. In fact, the contractors did not even meet the
fact-finding mission despite repeated attempts to contact them for their
comments on the employment situation. This in itself shows the indifference
of the contractors' to their employees.
We see in all this,
a clear corroboration of the charge of the union that this whole unfair
pattern of management of work was possible because of corrupt dealings
between the contractors and a number of influential officers of the BMP.
The union also claimed strong political-patronage for the practice, making
it impossible, even for honest senior functionaries of BMP to bring about
any change. We have further evidence of possible corrupt dealings in the
fact that some contractors had themselves gone to court demanding a stay
order in the giving out of contracts on the plea that a large number of
contracts were awarded to a single cartel.
Finally, the contractors in various wards have threatened workers that
if they were awarded minimum wages the contractors would no longer be
interested in the contracts and would abandon them. This should in no
way be allowed as a reason to delay the process of immediately granting
the workers minimum wages and other legal rights. The workers have already
been denied their rights for ten years. In fact the BMP should be held
responsible for this illegality over ten years, and should be made financially
We should add here that the various corporations of the Karnataka state
employ upward of 50,000 contract workers in different townships. All of
them face similar conditions of work. Any change in the conditions of
work of the contract workers of the BMP would have an immediate impact
on the conditions of other contract workers. Over 50000 workers stand
to gain by a speedy resolution to the dispute.
Demands: In this context, we fully support the demands of the workers
with respect to the following:
- Payment of minimum
wages to all workers together with all statutory benefits
- Ensuring the presence
of the principal employer, and labour department at the time, date and
place stipulated for the payment of wages
- Ensuring the presence
of the principal employer, and labour department to perform all regulatory
activities as required
- The issue of ID
cards and wage slips as per the law
- Confirmation of
the services of all workers as employee of the principal employer with
service weight age
- Ensuring steps
to prevent sexual harassment at the workplace as per the Supreme Court
guidelines in this regard
- Action should
be taken against untouchability
- According to the
Contract Act women and men should be paid equal wages
- They should be
provided with uniforms, badges, gumboots, gloves and other safety equipments
- Essential medical
facilities should be given.
-- Support group
for contract Powrakarmikas including PUCL