Pourakarmikas, Bangalore municipality’s conservancy workers are caught in the cross fire between BBMP (Bruhut Bangaluru Mahanagar Palike) and the private contractors hired to clear the city’s garbage. Since September 23rd, the private contractors have stopped collecting and disposing solid waste in the Bangalore municipal region. Previously the contractors had gone on a similar undeclared strike on 28th and 29th of August. These actions were to force BBMP from not going ahead with its commitment to ending the contract labour system, regularize the contract workers (Pourakarmikas) by paying their wages directly rather than route it through the private contractors. This was a major demand of the pourakarmikas, who have been denied wages for over four months and are still to receive their arrears for months of Nov 2016 to Jan 2017. (arrears due to revision on minimum wages).
Rather than taking action on the private contractors, the BBMP, through the State Government has brought garbage collection under ESMA (Essential Services Maintenance Act) for an entire year. By this action, the government has denied them their right to strike even though it has not guaranteed their right to wage. But the government is yet to penalize the contractors for breaking their agreement, nor would it enforce its own orders to do away with the private system.
The Pourakarmika’s, through their union – BBMP Guttige Pourakarmikara Sangha, have continued to work on both occasions when the contractors struck work. They had placed themselves in danger of even physical assault from the contractors. Even though they complained that the contractors were preventing them from work, the government did not take any action. It has also failed to implement its own Government Order passed on 7th August 2017, which would terminate the work contracts and regularize contract workers. Instead, the government has taken this opportunity to enforce the draconian ESMA that outlaws legal strikes. The Pourakarmikas have come out against the current strike action of the private contractors while also condemning the imposition of ESMA.
Lack of proper media coverage and context has also caused greater harm to the pourakarmikas, who are being blamed by the residents and shop owners for the present strike. Though the contractors relented to the collection of waste from the 25th September, the two days of accumulated garbage has become a severe burden on the contract workers. They also face the ire of the residents because of the delays.
The workers have demanded that the State government and BBMP to
- Withdraw with immediate effect the notification bringing garbage collection under ESMA
- Implement the Government Order of 7th August 2017, regularizing contract workers and terminating private work contracts.
- Take action against private contractors for breach of contract, causing health hazard in the city, preventing workers from doing their work.
- Immediate pay back of the dues, arrears and back wages of the pourakarmikas and begin direct wage payments as agreed in July.