Over 300 panchayat workers from all over Tamil Nadu belonging to the Rural Development Panchayat Office Workers Union and Rural School Sweepers Union both affiliated to CITU protested against the working conditions in Chennai on August 21st and a demanded minimum wage of Rs 10000 and regularisation of their employment. The workers who worked as water tank operators in panchayat offices and sweepers in schools said that the full time work is being termed as part time to ensure casualization and exploitation of the workers.
Ramu, a tank operator from Palani District says that the work is full time where the workers are required to work night and day. Even though they are supposed to be tank operators, they also perform additional tasks including house tax and water tax collection, maintenance services and need to be available 24 hours to ensure adequate water supply to the local population. “We are the beck and call of the panchayat office 24 hours and we get only 2500 Rs per month” said Ramu. Even this renumeration is not fixed in all the panchayats with workers getting from Rs 1000 to Rs 2500 and frequently the payment is delayed say the workers. Murugan, a worker from Vellore District has been denied 18 months of salary with the panchayat citing lack of funds often for denial of payment. The workers are demanding that in addition to regularisation, payment should be credited within 5th of every month.
The woes of predominantly dalit women sweepers is much worse. Parvathi, a sweeper who has been working for last 20 years in a school in Villupuram says that she gets paid only Rs 100 per month for her work. “The school doesnot even provide us with broom sticks. How can we manage with 100Rs?” ask the women workers. The dream of permanent government employment is the only reason why these women workers cling to this employment.
The wage of Rs 100 per month is a violation of Government’ own order G.O 385 released on October 2010 which has set the basic salary of the sweepers in Government Offices and Rural Panchayat Offices at Rs 1300 – Rs 3000. The GO for basic wages for workers who have completed 3 years of employment was itself a hard struggle waged over 10 years and won by women sweepers(especially women workers in police departments).
Comrade Ganesan, Gen. Secretary of CITU Rural Workers Federation said that there are more than 80000 panchayat workers and 20000 sweepers working in 12524 panchayats in Tamil Nadu. “Since 2000, there have been no new recruitment of permanent workers for these posts. New workers are taken only as casual workers. And there has been no pay revision for any of the workers” said Ganesan. According to him, while the permanent workers were drawing a monthly wage of Rs 2000-Rs2500, the new workers are being paid less and payment is delayed for months. Demanding a fair wage reflecting the current inflation, he placed the following demands to the Government.
- Regularisation of all the workers recruited after 2000
- Minimum wage of Rs 10000 and social security benefits for all workers
- Payment of salary before 5th of every month
Over the last year, unions have organized general strikes with the demand of minimum wage of Rs 10000 for all workers.