The workers had staged a similar protest outside Freedom Park in September last year and refused to leave unless their demands were met.

Need better wages job security Ktaka midday meal workers protest at Freedom Park
news Protests Tuesday, February 06, 2018 - 18:05

Hundreds of midday meal scheme workers from across Karnataka staged a protest outside Freedom Park in Bengaluru demanding better wages and government recognition of their work.

The protesters reached Bengaluru on Monday and are currently outside Freedom Park demanding a response from the Minister for Primary and Secondary Education Tanveer Sait.

Around 100 demonstrators took the protest to the minister’s residence on Tuesday morning and returned to Freedom Park when they were assured by the minister that he would listen to their demands at the protest site.

This is the second time that the midday meal workers are protesting outside Freedom Park; they had staged a similar protest from 12 to 14 September last year and refused to leave unless their demands were met.

Shivanna, State Secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), accused Tanveer Sait of paying lip service to midday meal workers.

“When we protested in September, Tanveer Sait promised to make amends by increasing the wages of midday meal workers but since there has been no concrete evidence of that and since the budget is coming up soon, we are protesting again,” said Shivanna.

The protests come days before the ruling Congress government is due to present its final budget on February 16. Karnataka is set to go to polls with the state Assembly elections set for May this year.

‘How is this fair?’

Workers from all over Karnataka were present at the protest.

“It is only when we protest that our wages increase a little. We have children to take care of… we can’t even buy them books, take them out to eat food or buy them good clothes with the wages we earn. How is this fair when we work all day from 9.30 am to 4 pm?” asks Prabhamani, a midday meal worker from Mysuru.

Rudramma, a midday meals worker from Davangere echoed Prabhamani’s words.

“If it takes a satyagraha to increase our wages then so be it. We want it to be specified in the budget that the salaries of midday meal scheme workers will go up to a respectable amount,” Rudramma says.

The wages and working conditions of midday meal workers in Karnataka were highlighted as far back as 2003 when the AITUC was formed.

“Midday meal workers were earning around Rs 300-450 then. Every time we had to stage protests for the wages to be increased. It increased to around Rs 1,000 in 2007 when Yeddyurappa was the Chief Minister and increased to Rs 1,200 when Siddaramaiah was the Chief Minister. It was only in the 2017 budget that midday meal workers were completely ignored, and we are bringing it to the minister’s attention,” said Avaregere Chandru, General Secretary of the Federation of Midday Meal Workers.

Harassment by teachers

Along with better wages, protesters are also demanding better job security as they claim that they are constantly harassed by teachers.

“Unless we protest, our voices are not heard, and we are looked down upon by teachers and government officials. We don’t want to be at the mercy of teachers in schools. There have been cases where teachers have asked midday meal workers to leave without reason. We want job security and recognition similar to regular workers,” Rudramma said.