In a cruel joke, the Gandhi Hospital in Hyderabad has allegedly rolled back a hike they announced for sanitation workers in April 2016 - and are now in the process of ‘recovering’ the ‘excess money’ paid to the contract workers. Thanks to this move, the 250 contract sanitation workers at the hospital have not been paid for two months, and they’re now on an indefinite strike to demand their rights.
It all started with the announcement by Union Minister of State for Labour and Employment Bandaru Dattatreya last year, that the government would soon bring in an executive order to ensure that every contract workers would be entitled to at least Rs 10,000 a month as salary.
Following this announcement, the Chief Secretary reportedly gave an order to the government hospital to increase the wages of the contract workers.
(M Narasimha, president of the Gandhi Hospital Sanitation Workers Union)
“The previous hospital superintendent, Dr JV Reddy, sanctioned the new salary structure of the sanitation workers and wrote letters to the Chief Secretary and the Director of Medical Education (DME) about the implementation,” says P Shravan Kumar, superintendent of Gandhi Hospital.
“However, there was no response from them. In September, the hospital got a notice from the DME saying that the Telangana government has suspended the order,” he says.
And where the workers’ salaries were increased from Rs 4030 to Rs 9300 per month last year, now, they’re not getting paid anything at all.
“The contractor is saying that for the past six months, the hospital has not given any bill to them. We are supposed to get Rs 9300 every month, but now they are saying that until they get an order from the Director of Medical Education, they cannot pay our salaries,” says M Narasimha, president of the Gandhi Hospital Sanitation Workers Union.
While the sanitation workers have promised to strike till they’re paid what’s due to them, the private contractor who employs them claims he’s left with no choice.
(Gandhi Hospital strike: Women sanitation worried about their salary)
‘Recover Rs 19 lakh from workers’
Jayapal Reddy, the owner of G Jayapal Reddy Outsourcing Services says the government has not paid the company since September, and has in fact ordered them to ‘recover’ the money already paid.
“We understand their plight. For three months after our bills were pending sanction by the hospital, we continued to pay them the enhanced wages. After September, we did not get any money from the government, but we still paid them till January,” he says.
The money that the contractor has to ‘recover’ from the workers runs to the tune of Rs 19 lakh, Dr Shravan Kumar says.
The agency claims they have moved the Hyderabad High Court on the matter, where, Jayapal says, the judge verbally instructed the DME to release funds for the payment of the enhanced wages.
“However, we expect this to take some time. So it is not possible for us to pay the wages until the funds are released,” says Jayapal.
The News Minute had called the Director of Medical Education, however, the concerned person was not available to give clarity on the issue.
‘No masks, no gloves, now no salaries’
Narisimha says that the hospital authorities have now claimed that they will be paid the workers their old salaries. However, this has done nothing to quell the workers’ anger.
“We are not provided masks or gloves to clean the bathrooms of the hospitals. All the dirty work is done by us. Still we don’t complaint - only because we have to earn. Now even that is at risk, what are we supposed to do?” asks Kalavati, one of the workers.
For many of the workers, the situation is so dire that they are pawning off jewellery and taking loans to make ends meet.
“I had to sell my gold earrings to pay the rent and my son’s school fee,” says 29-year-old Santoshi, one of the contract workers.
(Sanitation worker Kalavati)
Sanitation crisis imminent?
What’s more, because the 250 contract workers are striking, the 150 permanent sanitation workers in the hospital now have to work longer, and the hospital is facing an imminent sanitation crisis.
“We have 150 permanent staff in the hospital, and right now we are able to manage. But if the strike continues, it will be hard for other workers to do all the work. Already we have a shortage of staff, and with 250 workers going on strike, it will affect the hospital cleanliness,” says Dr. Shravan.
“The workers on strike even took their brooms and other cleaning equipments. For now, we have been given some extra mops. We work two shifts every day - I used to go home by 4pm, but now I have to stay at work till 8. It is tiring when you work from 7 in the morning,” says one of the permanent sanitation workers.