National Protest Day by the All India Municipal Workers Federation

The All India Municipal Workers Federation gave a call for a nation-wide protest on 12th September, 2023 demanding dignified and fair working conditions to municipal workers and safai karamcharis.

The protest was held in various cities across the country including Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Odisha, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, etc. Thousands of municipal workers protested outside the offices of Urban Local Bodies and the Labour Departments and demanded that the government ensure the rights and dignity of Municipal Workers. A memorandum was submitted to the Prime Minister demanding that steps to ensure be taken that the lives and dignity of the Municipal workers, including safaikaramcharis, are ensured and protected, and especially the 12-point demand be immediately fulfilled.

Neo-liberal policies has resulted in the contractualization of core and essential work performed by urban local bodies. This includes security, gardening, cleaning, computer-operators, office staff and safai-karamcharis. The contract system is characterized by rampant corruption and systematic exploitation denying workers even their fundamental right to minimum wages, social security and job security. While the contract workers in the local bodies suffer sheer exploitation, discrimination and undignified working conditions, the situation of the contract safaikaramcharis requires further mention.

Lakhs of workers, predominantly Dalit and largely women, are employed in the caste-ordained occupation as safaikaramcharis across the country, in every city, town and village, to sweep the streets, clean the drains, door to door collection of garbage, etc. and are compelled to work in the most unscientific, unhygienic and dehumanising conditions to protect the health of everyone else at the cost of their own. Bending their backs to sweep, pushing broken down push-carts, driving stench-filled vehicles, safaikaramcharis are forced to handle all forms of rotting garbage, human/animal waste and carcasses with bare hands, without even a single holiday, being denied any job/wage/social security and not even provided drinking water, toilets, rest-rooms, etc. and are subject to daily harassment and atrocities. This is an attack on the life and dignity of lakhs of workers in direct contravention of their Constitutional rights.

The condition of municipal workers has been deteriorating with rampant informalisation and contractualization, which is worsening in the face of the all-out assault on the working class by the Modi Government, particularly the Labour Codes. The Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020 seeks to encode combined assault of Manuvad and Neo-liberalism on the working class, in particular by institutionalising the contract system and perpetuating the caste-ordained occupation and keep workers in insecure working conditions and in a vicious cycle of poverty. The Code only prohibits the employment of contract labour in “core activities” of any establishment and then promptly goes on to exclude from the definition of “core activities” the work of sanitation, security, canteen, gardening, housekeeping, and other such works etc. Of course this is shocking and condemnable since it seeks to institutionalise contract labour in activities that are known as D group and the lower end of C Group. The protest on 12th September was a warning to the government that this would not accepted under any circumstances.

It is also most shameful that 77 years after Independence the abhorrent practice of manual scavenging, a caste ordained occupation, continues till this day. Not only does this result in the loss of the lives of workers, but is a daily assault on their dignity. The toilets with soak pits, constructed under Swaach Bharat, have institutionalised manual scavenging.

In the nation-wide protest, it was resolved that all municipal workers across the country will fight till the contract system is completely abolished and all workers, including safaikarmacharis, are regularised, and dignified conditions of work and living are realised.

Demands Charter of  AIMWF

1. The contract system must be scrapped in all rural and urban local bodies, and all existing term contract employees, honorarium workers, direct payment workers, daily wage workers must be regularised and paid wages and given all benefits on par with regular local body employees as per the VII Pay Commission and on the basis of the principle “equal pay for equal work”.

2. Regular employees should be given pay revision and other benefits in the light of the recommendations and decisions made by the VII Pay Commission. This should also be extended to all other municipal workers including contract workers, term contract employees, honorarium workers, direct payment workers, daily wage workers, etc.

3. All contract workers, term contract employees, honorarium workers, direct payment workers, daily wage workers and regular workers should be given pension under the old pension scheme. The new pension scheme should be withdrawn.

4. Manual Scavenging must be eradicated and the Dalits should be emancipated from all forms of caste-based discrimination.

5. On the death of a contract workers, term contract employees, honorarium workers, direct payment workers, daily wage workers or regular workers, Rs. 10 lakhs should be immediately disbursed to their dependents, and a dependent should be taken into service under compassionate appointment.

6. All workers in the local body should be extended and ensured the benefit of EPF and ESI

7. Drinking water, restroom, toilet, lockers, safety wear, changing room and other necessary facilities should be arranged at the workplace for safaikaramcharis, in all urban local bodies and gram panchayats.

8. Dignified houses should be provided to all Safaikaramcharis and other local body workers. Proper and free education should be ensured for children of Safaikaramcharis and they should also be provided free health services.

9. The introduction of GPS watches for safaikaramcharis in various municipalities across the country is classiest and casteist, and this practice must be immediately stopped.

10. Officials and society must cease their casteist and classist prejudices against safaikarmacharis by treating them with respect and dignity.

11. Sexual harassment of women at the workplace should be addressed immediately. Gender and caste discrimination of safaikaramcharis should be abolished.

12. The anti-workers Labour Codes, especially the intent to institutionalise contract labour in sweeping and housekeeping, must be immediately withdrawn.

All India Municipal Workers Federation