Away from the eyes of Swachh Bharat : Mumbai conservancy contract workers score a significant victory

2700 contract workers who work in  Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC)  conservancy  department scored a significant victory in high court on December 23rd 2016, when the court declared that they  should be made  permanent. In his judgment, justice Nitin Jamdar said “These 2,700 workers, working round the year, provide the foundation on which the city functions. Instead of acknowledging this importance and giving them the stability of permanent tenure to improve their living conditions, the corporation, a public body, has taken advantage of its dominant position to exploit this lowest level of the community, disregarding various welfare measures suggested by the state government.” [1]

These workers (many of whom are migrants and lack permanent housing) have been working on contractual basis with BMC from 2004. In 2005, Sharva Shramik Sangh (SSS) which is an old trade union in Maharashtra began organizing them. Finally in  early 2007, the workers as part of SSS formed KVSS (Kachra Vahatuk Shramik Sangh). In February 2007, KVSS approached labour court. After the negotiations mediated by labour commissioner failed, the matter went to Industrial court. In 2014, KVSS and the workers scored their first significant victory when industrial court stated that the contracts that BMC was following were bogus and sham.[1] These contracts were in effect trying to justify the pathetic differentiation that BMC was trying to make between it’s permanent conservancy workers (who at that time were paid 22,000 a month) and contract workers who were paid 8,000 a month. BMC was claiming that the contract workers were doing different work as compared to permanent workers , which after taking all evidence into account was rubbished by the court. Following this defeat, BMC approached high court  with a petition, but the court eventually rejected it and gave the December 23rd judgment that holds great importance for conservancy workers in Tamil Nadu as well as elsewhere in the country.

As the high court has noted, these contract workers were not only paid pittances, but were denied even basic facilities like washroom toilets and medical treatments. In his strongly worded judgment Justice Jamdar has further stated that  “One does not have to go through years of such sub-human existence to complain of exploitation”.

This was a long struggle for KVSS. Not only did they fight the battle in court, they had to ensure that none of these contract workers was removed during this period and had to maintain the unity as the case dragged on for years.  In 2012, they got a court order stating that even if the contractors were changed, the workers would not be removed. Thus all the 2700 workers who started this fight have remained with BMC and will collectively taste this victory against unjust discrimination by Bombay Municipality.

Just as Industrial court had declared in 2012, High court in it’s judgment has also said that from the time case was filed, that is in 2007, all the workers be given arrears which equals difference between salaries of permanent and contract workers from that time to now. As the current salary of permanent worker in BMC is 25,000 and the contract workers are paid 9,000, this difference added up over 9 years is a significant sum for the workers.

The struggle may not have ended just yet as BMC may still approach supreme court. It should be remembered that BMC is the richest municipal organization in India and yet it chooses to exploit workers in such a fashion.

In 2015, as part of prime minister’s grand idea of Swach Bharat campaign, BMC had organized a cleanliness drive which was inaugurated by the chief minister Fadanavis (member of BJP).  This is when BMC was fighting a case in court trying to make sure that workers who actually clean the streets continue to get exploited and humiliated.  Today there is no cleanliness drive in Bombay but the workers are celebrating.

Com. Milind Ranade of KVSS talks about this battle here:


Final High Court order on regularization of municipal sweepers:

Download (PDF, 389KB)

This entry was posted in Contract Workers, Informal sector, Labour Laws, Public Sector workers, Sanitation Workers, Unorganised sector, Workers Struggles, Working Class Vision. Bookmark the permalink.