Many of the protesting workers said that even the salary for October has still not been paid.

Bluru municipal workers protest after minimum wage hike not implemented months after decision
news Protest Thursday, November 24, 2016 - 19:46

Machchamma, a pourakarmika with the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), and her husband Ravi were thrilled when they heard that their minimum wage salaries were going to be hiked in August. Finally, they could think of moving into a better house, getting medical help for Ravi’s infection and saving up for their daughters’ marriage.

However, with the salary hike still not coming four months later, and with salaries for October not yet paid, her husband’s infection has only started to spread, and all their other plans have come to a standstill. “Everything else can wait. If the infection on his thigh gets worse, so will the situation at home,” says Machchamma.

Angry at the inordinate delay, Machchamma and other contract pourakarmikas protested outside the office of BBMP Joint Commissioner(East) Sarfaraz Khan on Thursday.

The longstanding demand for a hike in the minimum wage by contract pourakarmikas of the BBMP was finally met in August 2016. The Karnataka government raised salaries by 125%, from Rs 7730 to Rs 17392. The hike also included Rs 3000 as risk allowance. The wage hike was to come into effect immediately.

This was, in fact, a landmark decision from a labour department that has previously increased the minimum wages by only a few 100s in the past few years.

The salary hike was based on recommendations of the State Safai Karamchari Commission.

However, four months later, the pay revision has still not been implemented. Sumalatha, who is employed in the Kammanahalli ward, said that the contractors simply postpone any questions about the hike. “When we asked, they told us to wait until the other contractors paid the revised amount. When we said that it was to be implemented from August 4 itself, they told us that they will give us the arrears by January 2017.”

However, Vinod, a pourakarmika employed in the Frazer Town ward, said that his contractor told him that they did not have enough money to pay the revised salary.

“While we believe that the amount will be paid to us along with arrears, I just hope the contractors have not spent the extra money while still giving us the old salary,” Vinod said.

Vinod’s bigger concern is about receiving his salary for October. “Salaries are never on time. They are never given before mid-month, but sometimes our payments are delayed by over a month,” he said.

Sixty-year-old Chenniachi, also awaiting her salary for October, said that besides household needs, a part of their salary also goes towards the tools of their job. “It is supposed to be the contractor’s responsibility, but it eats up about 10% of my salary every month. If I don’t have a broom, then I can’t work. If I don’t work they mark me absent. It is a vicious circle,” she said.

“We spend at least Rs 100 when the wheels of the garbage carts wear off; and they wear off at least three times in a fortnight,” she said.

“We have to buy the spare parts with our money. Any repair work is supposed to be handled by us. We cannot push the cart if the wheels are broken. If we went to the contractor, he would say that we can leave the job if we can’t fix the problem,” she added.

She and other workers say that contractors confidently tell workers to quit whenever they make any demands, simply because there are plenty of people to fill in for them.

“They say it as if we should feel privileged to have this job and to be working for this contractor. But, to be frank, the fact that this job will go out of my hands scares me. This is all I know, and I took it up with the hope that I will be made a permanent employee by the government,” said Chenniachi.

As for rules mandating that contractors should provide protective equipment to pourakarmikas, they are just an eyewash, says Srinivasan, who has been working on contract as a garbage collector and driver for over 11 years.

“All we get is the uniform. The protective gear like masks and gloves are given to us when councillors come for an inspection. They (the contractors) take it away immediately after the inspection. There is absolutely no concern for our safety,” he said.

Commissioner Sarfaraz Khan, who later spoke to the protestors, said that the BBMP council will pass a resolution on November 29 mandating that the hike be implemented immediately.

“There is no going back on the notification. But a formal resolution will have to be taken by the council. The workers will be paid along with the arrears,” he said.