- EDMC sanitation workers have gone on strike since October 11
- This is the third strike by EDMC workers in 2017
- Timely payment of wages, bonuses and arrears are the principal demands
Saawan Kumar Balahi had hoped to buy his daughters new dresses and get a new table fan this Diwali. A sanitation worker associated with the East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC), Sawaan had planned for the gifts hoping that arrears from the municipality would be cleared as promised before Diwali began. With no communication confirming the release of arrears and bonuses for sanitation workers affiliated with the EDMC, Rakesh Balahi had no option but to join a strike with his co-workers from October 11. The primary demands of the EDMC sanitation workers include timely payment of salaries, bonuses and arrears and the availability of a medical cashless card system.
This is the third instance of EDMC sanitation workers going on strike this year, the earlier ones being in January and June 2017. Non-payment of salaries on time was the primary reason for both the earlier strikes and is the principal demand this time as well. Workers allege that despite assurances by the civic body, they do not receive their salaries on time. Repeated strikes have not changed the situation for the workers as they are yet to receive the bonus for the month of September, despite 11 days of October already gone by.
The strikes of January and June seemed to have no effect as timely salaries are still something we are protesting for. We demanded for the same in January and in June but how are we supposed to continue working if we are not getting paid on time, asks Sanjay Gehlot, President, MCD Swachhata Karmachari Union.
A meeting was convened on October 9 between EDMC mayor Neema Bhagat and representatives of the Swachhata Karmachari Union and Delhi Commission For Safai Karamcharis. Both the unions put forward their demands of receiving timely payments and bonuses, along with access to a medical cashless card system. The unions had earlier planned to go collectively on strike from October 11 onwards, though at present it is only the Swachhata Karmachari Union which is on strike. On October 10, EDMC mayor Neema Bhagat had announced that legitimate demands of the workers would be met, including demands of timely payment, bonuses, arrears and cashless medical facilities.
So why are EDMC’s sanitation workers on strike despite assurance by the mayor herself?
Because we have been given such assurances before. Even during the course of our earlier strikes, we were told that salaries will be paid on time. However, salaries began to be delayed post our strike. We have no option but to make the civic body realise that we need our rightful wages on time, said Mr Gehlot.
EDMC is not a singular instance of sanitation workers being unhappy with their employers. Bengaluru has also seen three strikes by their sanitation workers in 2017, who demanded better wages, better work conditions and an end to caste discrimination faced at work. In September this year, the South Delhi Municipal Commission (SDMC) workers had also gone on strike, alleging mistreatment of an SDMC sanitation worker by a local legislator. The instances of sanitation workers going on strike is neither new nor uncommon, because delay in disbursal of wages and arrears is a common occurrence across municipalities.
EDMC maintains that despite its new budget in February 2016, it continues to be cash-strapped, though welfare of sanitation workers is the civic body’s highest priority. But as a civic body with weak finances, it becomes difficult for EDMC to disburse wages with regularity to sanitation workers.
Our finances have still not improved despite the new budget. Tax collection is not up to the mark and hence there is a bit of delay on our part to disburse the salaries. But both the salaries and the bonuses will be provided to the workers before Diwali, said Ranbir Singh, Commissioner, EDMC.
Instances of EDMC’s empty promises have prompted the strike, which may be joined in by a few other unions as well. The meagre salary of Rs 9,000 per month is often not enough for a sanitation worker, who looks forward to arrears and bonuses during the festive season. However, delay in their disbursal is increasingly becoming worrisome for EDMC sanitation workers, who are afraid that they might have to go without payment during the festival of lights.
At the Banega Swachh India cleanathon on October 2, actor Amitabh Bachchan had lamented that the country has not been able to take care of those who are in charge of cleaning the country. Repeated strikes by sanitation workers across cities echo the actor’s statement, as municipal corporations have not been successful in ensuring regular payments to their workers. The financial functioning of civic bodies is also a matter of concern, because their inability to smoothly gather enough money for payment to workers is translating into repeated strikes and hindrance of work.