Inadequate civic amenities for sanitation workers in Chennai Flood Cleanup

Sanitation workers, brought to cleanup Chennai from various parts of Tamil Nadu have complained of inadequate amenities and infrastructure that has been provided to these workers. Comrade Paramasivam, State vice president of Louis Sanitation Workers Union(affiliated to NTUI), said that over 150 workers were brought from the districts of Nellai, Tuticorin and Kanyakumari. Earlier, they were housed in a marriage hall in Thiruvottiyur which was adequate for the workers. After 3 days, they have been shifted to Kodambakkam where already more than 500 workers are being housed. The lack of water and toilets has forced these workers to shell out as much as Rs 25 per day to wash themselves. Workers were  falling sick and were seeking treatment by themselves. While the Government has provided anti tetanus injection, no comprehensive health infrastructure is available for the workers and the workers need to fend for themselves.

Sanitation Workers in Kodambakkam

Comrade Paramasivam said that permanent workers have been brought from various parts of the state with a cash allowance. He said that while their corporation office had provided them cash of Rs 3000 to Rs 5000, the villupuram corporation had only given their workers, a cash allowance of Rs 650. While food is being taken care of by the government, the workers had to arrange their own transport and spending for civic amenities is creating hardship, he said.

The workers also said that the Chennai Corporation has not provided any tools or safety equipment for their work. Comrade Paramasivam said that the workers had brought their own materials from their hometown and had to use them. Those who have no access to these materials are working with no adequate protection, he said.

Workers said that their working hours ranged from 8 to 12 hours. There was lack of clarification on compensation for workers. A worker from Karur said that Government had annouced a one time allowance of Rs 2000 for the permanent workers. Contract workers are being paid Rs 300 per day, according to several workers. Paramasivam estimates that about 50% of workers involved in cleanup were contract workers. According to them, the Government is paying Rs 500 per day for contract workers but Rs 200 is being appropriated by contractors. The contract workers earn around Rs 5500 in their hometown. In addition, the Government has also sourced village panchayat wokers. A sweeper from a panchayat in Nellai district said that wages for panchayat sanitation workers are between Rs 1500 and Rs 3200 per month.

The workers complained of various issues they face in their employment. A worker from Salem corporation said that he worked as a temporary worker from 1991 to 1998, was made contract worker from 1998 until 2006. While he has been made permanent in 2006, he is yet to get LA number which provides him his access to PF and medical benefits. He said that he earns around Rs 16000(Rs 15000 after deductions) and pay slips are not provided to the workers. The village panchayat workers reported that they do not have either PF or pension.

Comrade Paramasivam said that as sanitation work is made permanent, the employment is accessed by BCs and MBCs but they ensure that they do not step out of office and the dalit workers end up doing their work too. Comrade Paramasivam said that while they were ready to do their bit for the state, lack of basic amenities creates too much hardship and needs to be addressed by the State. As workers have been housed in various schools, are being brought in to share existing accommodations, even this inadequate infrastructure can only increase the hardship of the sanitation workers.

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