‘Will die rather than work on contract basis’: Sanitation workers continue stir in Chennai

It’s the fifth day in a row and more than 500 sanitation workers are sitting in front of the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSB) office building in MRC Nagar demanding to settle their jobs.

The demonstrators slept on the side of the road and raised slogans against the authority’s decision to provide them with contract work. The enterprise is said to have 1,800 temporary workers.

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The workers said they had not slept in the past five days, and had not returned home to visit their families. They added that they ate once or twice and tried to stay awake by sipping because they were always afraid that the police would kick them out by force.

The protesters said that they organized this protest without the support of any union or political party. In the public discourse order, one of the organizers was seen regularly directing his men to stand in line and not indulge in activities that might disrupt the sole motive of the assembly.

Sridhar, who has been a Jet Rodding driver for 12 years, said they are tired of false promises made by officials and want a permanent solution. “I have seen no less than six principals (managers) here. They were promising us that they would give us permanent jobs within three months and ask us to continue working as temporary workers. After the period passed, they would be transferred and a new doctor would come. Once again we put our demands before him. This is What has been happening for many years now.

He added, “Although we were not permanent, at least we are satisfied that it is the board of directors who pay us our salaries. However, a week ago, we learned that we would be working for a contractor. Our salaries have been reduced. For me, from Rs 25,000 a month. Now it is Rs 20,000. They say they are taking our amount from PF and ESI, but we were not asked to provide any documents for that. How do we know the amount will go to these accounts?” he asked.

Workers said they worked relentlessly, even during the pandemic to help city residents. They are asking us to go back to work. They say that if we don’t work, our service will be terminated. There are 1,800 workers, but we are not all here because the rest have been threatened by officials. “Because of the situation in their families, they are not in a position to take action against these officials,” Amel added.

Vinoth Kumar, who has been in business for 15 years, said they have not been paid for the past month and do not know who to contact about this issue. Our protest will continue until we become permanent workers. The board told us that we had moved to a contractual system due to a lack of funds. However, if this is the case, how are private sector workers hired? They cannot pay 850 rupees per day but can afford 1,500 rupees to a private worker.”

The demonstrators claimed that the police asked them to disperse on the first day of the protest. “We are in no mood to leave this site unless our demands are met. We will die but we will not go back to work as a temporary worker,” said one of the protesters.

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