Guest Post by Surendra Panchal
Sanitation Hospital Workers Strike at a Delhi Hospital over Non-Payment of Minimum Wages
Sanitation workers of the Satyavadi Raja Harishchandra Hospital (The Truthful King Harishchandra Hospital), Narela in Outer Delhi have started an indefinite dharna today, to protest their unjust dismissal when they asked to be paid the statutory minimum wage for unskilled work declared by the Delhi Government, Rs 7254 per month.
They were instead being paid nearly half this amount – just Rs 3500 pm. Further, the workers had not received any salary at all for the past 5 months – since March 2013. The dharna is being organized by the workers under the banner of their Union, the All India General Kamgar Union affiliated to the AICCTU. The Hospital is a 200-bed hospital run by the Delhi Government. Its Chairman is the local MLA of the area, Jaswant Rana of the Congress party. The Medical Superintendent (MS) is Dr. Chandrakant.
It is shocking that minimum wage laws and contract labour laws are being blatantly violated in a hospital run by the Delhi Government, whose Chairman is an MLA of the ruling party. There were 25 safai karamcharis (sanitation workers) employed by the Hospital. Although the work they do is a permanent nature, they are all contract workers. The contractors change from time to time, the workers have remained the same for years. This is a blatant violation of the Contract Labour Regulation and Abolition Act (CLARA Act). The Contract Labour Act also stipulates that contract workers must be paid the same as permanent ones for the same work, according to the principle of ‘Equal Pay for Equal Work’.
If these sanitation workers were to be paid at the same rate as permanent workers, they would be paid Rs 25000 a month. Moreover, each worker did the work of two – cleaning two wards instead of one. In July, the workers complained to the Labour Department of North West district, asking to be paid minimum wages, as well as their pending salaries.
On the 31st of July, the contractor said he would no longer work at the Hospital, and since 3rd August, the workers were told that they were dismissed. The principal employer is the Hospital, and according to the Contract Labour Regulation and Abolition Act (CLARA Act), the principal employer must guarantee payment of minimum wages to all workers, taking the amount from the contractor’s payment if the contractor refuses to pay the minimum wage. Instead, the MS of the Hospital is openly threatening the workers with arrest on false charges of theft.
On the 3rd of August, the workers were told by a guard that the MS wished to meet their representatives at 6 pm. Two workers, Shiela and Sunil went to meet the MS. He told them they had the option of accepting a Rs 200 wage hike, and working 12 hours a day instead of 8, if they wanted to stay on. If not, he said, they – “should not be seen on the premises, or else I will have the SHO arrest you on false charges of theft.”
The Hospital has also removed the Board of the National Sanitation Workers Commission displaying the statutory minimum wages, which by law the Hospital is required to display. Since the workers have been illegally laid off, there is a sanitation crisis in the Hospital, with garbage stinking on the premises. One sanitation worker Praveen Jain said that the MS called him on the phone, asking him to take Rs 500 to throw away the garbage bags. He refused, saying that the Hospital should instead uphold the law and give the workers their legal and rightful wages and rights.
Surendra Panchal is an activist with the Delhi Unit of AICCTU
He can be contacted at – email@example.com