By Nantoo Banerjee
The government and its aided institutions, at both the centre and states, seem to have become the biggest exploiter of new labour laws and practices to recruit employees under short-term contracts against permanent vacancies. In the process, the government and its sponsored employers are saving large amounts in pay, allowances and perks at the cost of helpless job seekers. Retirement or contract-end benefits are paltry. In many cases, they don’t exist. For instance, in West Bengal’s Darjeeling district, some 5,000 casual employees under the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) have been working for decades without being regularised as permanent workers despite a government order in 2009. The jobs are listed under the categories of ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’. Their persistent protestations failed to move the GTA or the state government.
Similarly, at a time when millions of people were losing jobs all over the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Uttar Pradesh government proposed last year to bring about major changes for Group B and Group C employees and considered contract recruitment in these categories for a five-year term. These employees would not be entitled to allowances and other benefits like permanent employees and their wages would be fixed by the government. On expiry of the contract period, a rigorous performance appraisal is proposed to be carried out for admission in the permanent category. However, most such employees are unlikely to get their contracts renewed. They will pave the way for fresh contractual recruits.
In Maharashtra, part-time jobs and contractual employments in the government and its sponsored establishments have been the order of the day. Under the previous BJP-led government, agitating employees’ associations, supported by some 26 organisations, even held a successful token strike. The Brihnmumbai state government employees’ association actively participated in the strike. “Our demands, including issues regarding pension of employees, regularisation of contractual labour, immediate recruitment in government and complete ban on privatisation of government services are raised in this strike. So, we are participating in it,” said president of association Milind Sardeshmukh and secretary Avinash Daund.
The association has 17 lakh members all over the state and is the largest union of Maharashtra government employees. Even gazetted officers of the Maharashtra Secretariat declared moral support to the strike. The ‘same job, same salary’ norm is violated at will for contractual employees. Few institutions respect the Supreme Court ruling in favour of ‘equal pay for equal work’ providing relief to contractual employees. But still, in many fields, contractual employees have to work on very low salary. Employees working on contractual basis are now given bonuses too.
The ‘unfair’ contractual employment scene in states such as Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat is no different. In Tamil Nadu, state government employees had lately demonstrated against some of the practices. According to trade union leader K. Thiyagarajan, the government had tried to suppress the agitation. “We demanded only the restoration of the old pension scheme. Former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa made a promise and constituted an expert committee but the present government is not meeting our demand.” He said the salaries of MLAs were hiked several times and even IAS and IPS officers got salary revision as per recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission. Whereas government employees and teachers are yet to get their grievances redressed.
Among the demands were removal of anomalies in salary structures of secondary grade teachers, ministerial staff, superintendents and secretariat staff and job regularisation for those working on temporary basis. In fact, contract jobs in the government sector has become quite common in recent years. Many government and semi government organisations are into contractual hiring. Contractual jobs are not limited to any designation or post. Now a days, government organisations are hiring higher to lower designation profiles on contractual basis.
Across the country, the so-called noble teaching profession is being treated probably in the most ignoble fashion by the government. In West Bengal, thousands of para-teachers from government schools have been protesting in Kolkata since December 18, demanding introduction of pay bands. For a long time, the para-teachers in the state have been receiving a consolidated pay and get none of the benefits given to regular teachers. If pay bands are introduced for para-teachers, they will be entitled to benefits such as regular increment, dearness and medical allowances, and leave for child-care.
Said Madhumita Banerjee, the co convenor of the Para Teachers Aikya Mancha in Bengal “We waited patiently for over a year. But the government has made it clear that it does not care about our plight. So, despite the ongoing pandemic, we were forced to start protesting.” The para-teachers were not even given permission by the state government to organise a sit-in demonstration. They had to move the High Court for permission. The court allowed them to organise the demonstration opposite the state education minister’s office at Bikash Bhavan in Kolkata under a condition that not more than 700 teachers will be present at the venue.
Published reports show the unemployment rate in urban India was as high as at 24.95 percent in April, 2020. In rural part of the country, it was 22.89 percent. Incidentally, state-wise unemployment rate differed widely. The highest unemployment rate was in the currently poll-bound Puducherry at 75.80 percent, followed by election-bound Tamil Nadu (49.80 percent), Jharkhand (47.10 percent), Bihar (46.60 percent) and Haryana (43.20 percent).
What kind of welfare state does India envision for itself with the government, instead of being an ideal employer, indulging in such questionable labour practices that treat employees in the same job differently? Almost every government department and institution is indulging in low-paid contractual recruitments in most categories of jobs just to tighten expenditure on employment. Such bodies include the railways, defence, health care, police, central and state undertakings, banks, including the Reverse Bank, public works and education. (IPA Service)