news Monday, July 28, 2014 - 05:30
Anisha Sheth| The News Minute | July 28, 2014 | 3.39 pm IST For 42 years, Akku and Leela cleaned 21 toilets in a government institute. For this service, they were paid a basic salary of Rs 15 for some years, and later fired for demanding the legal minimum wage. For remainder of their service until retirement, they actually worked without wages. Akku and Leela had been hired on a temporary basis by the government to clean toilets at the Government Women Teacher’s Training Institute in Udupi district in 1971 at a monthly wage of Rs. 15. This temporary service lasted over 15 years until their services were terminated in 1998 for demanding the minimum wage from the Education Department. It has not ended, even though they retired in 2011. Akku and Leela began their struggle for the minimum wage soon after they joined as cleaners and they repeatedly asked the Education Department to at least pay them the minimum wage. However, their pleas fell on deaf ears.  After they completed 10 years of service as temporary Group D employees, they were eligible to be made permanent employees, based on a 1996 Supreme Court order in the Uma Devi case, which states that all temporary employees who had worked for 10 years before 1984, were to be made permanent employees of the government. After approaching the government by themselves for years, Akku says that a clerk named Kusuma in the institute introduced them to activist Ravindra Shanbagh who runs an NGO. From 1999 onwards, along with the Human Rights Protection Foundation, Akku and Leela took the government to court. In 1998, the pair first complained to the Karnataka Administrative Tribunal, asking for their services to be made permanent. The government’s response was to sack them. However, they continued to turn up for work, and were paid by college betterment committee Shanbagh sasy. Finally the Tribunal order in 2003 was in favour of Akku and Leela. It ordered that the state government regularize their services from the date they had joined. When the state government appealed the KAT order with the Karnataka High Court, the court upheld the KAT verdict in 2004. The same happened with the Supreme Court, which ruled in favour of Akku and Leela in January 2010, and pay them accordingly. When the government still did not pay them their due, the pair filed a contempt petition with the court in June.  Inexplicably, the state government had paid Akku and Leela Rs. 2.11 lakh each in December 2013 based on the current minimum wage. Shanbagh says they were paid that sum for the years 1998-2003, based on the minimum wage then, as if they had just joined in 1998. Then, a month later, the state government paid both of them Rs 3.68 lakh each in January 2014 for the years 2003-08.  “In both cases, we don’t really understand their logic,” Shanbagh says. “Our contention is that they joined in 1971, so their wages should be calculated since that time, including the increments and other benefits that are applicable to them,” Shanbagh added. Since the government had not paid them their wages between 1971 and 1998, Akku and Leela approached the Supreme Court again, which has now asked the government to re-calculate and pay them accordingly.  According to Shanbagh’s estimates, based on the minimum wage in 1971, Akku and Leela would have to get around Rs 30 lakh each, in accordance with the increments and other rules applicable to them. On July 18, 2014, the government finally issued an order regularizing their services from the date they joined and also specifies the amount which it owes each of them. The government’s stubbornness in refusing to pay its two employees their rightful wage could possibly be understood in the fact that there are hundreds of employees like Akku and Leela.  After news of their cases became known, Shanbagh says his organization has received 78 cases of a similar nature over the years. Of the cases it has been able to verify so far, Shanbagh says two women’s cases meet the legal requirement to be made permanent employees.  Shanbagh says his group has now taken up the case for Padma who has been a temporary employee at the Government Training School in Balmatta, Mangalore, and Elizabeth, who works at the Fisheries High School in Malpe, Udupi district. What kept Akku and Leela going all these years? The grim inescapable reality that they had nothing else.  Akku told The News Minute: “We joined thinking that we would (one day) be made permanent. There was no other work, we had nothing else.” On July 4, the Supreme Court gave the state government one week’s time to comply with its order. Accordingly, the state government finally issued an order, making Akku and Leela permanent employees of the Education Department. This is clearly a victory for them, but one whose fruits are still elusive. It is still unclear when the government will pay them what it owes them.
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