Tuesday, July 8, 2014

[Delhi University] Violation of Labour Laws and Constant Humiliation, Victimization of Hostel Workers

- New Socialist Initiative, Delhi University Chapter

This is to bring to notice that the hostel workers in Ambedkar Ganguly Students’ House for Women (AGSHW) of Delhi University, have been the subject of extreme victimization by the Provost (Professor Meenakshi Thapan, Dept. of Sociology) and Resident Tutor (Mary Grace Zou, Dept. of Anthropology). We have been in the know that there is a history of such behavior and gross violations of labour laws in the hostel. When some students of the hostel informed and wrote about the same to the hostel authorities instead of resolving the matter the sanitation & house-keeping workers and security guards, who have been working there for many years, were victimized through non-continuation of their jobs.

On 1st of July, 2014, when a delegation comprising of Representative from New Socialist Initiative, SC/ST Employees’ Welfare Association and Students of Delhi University went to meet the hostel authorities the workers repeated very disturbing stories about the conduct of the Provost and Resident Tutor. It was once again brought to our notice that the Provost and Resident Tutor have been harassing and humiliating the hostel workers on a regular basis. Some of the workers who belong to the Dalit community were subject to behavior that is clearly punishable under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) act 1989 (for now we are not publishing the testimonies online). Sanitation & house-keeping workers have been made to work at the Provost’s and Resident Tutor’s houses during the working hours when they were supposed to do their duties in hostel. Constant humiliation and threats of removing the workers from their jobs is a norm in this hostel. Besides this, there remains a pending issue of payment of arrears when salaries of workers were below minimum wages, that the administration still owes several workers.

In 2010 New Socialist Initiative wrote a letter to the Provost of AGSHW (Annexure 1 click here) highlighting the violation of Minimum Wages Act 1948 in the payment of wages to workers in the hostel for which the AGSHW administration, being the principal employer, is responsible. Evidence of this violation is presented here in Annexure 2 (click here) which shows the wage sheets of Pragati Enterprise, the private contractor for the sanitation & house-keeping workers till 2010, and its payment to the sanitation & house-keeping workers at wages much below the then existing minimum wage of Rs. 5278.

It was only after the active intervention of members of New Socialist Initiative that this was brought to light in public and wages duly increased to meet the minimum wages. However, the non-payment of arrears to all those workers who worked below minimum wages for several years is as yet an unresolved issue. It may also be noted that while wages were duly increased after the intervention of our organization, no action was taken against the authorities responsible for a practice.

Complaints about the Provost and her mismanagement of hostel affairs, negligence of duties and constant harassment of workers besides the above mentioned issues of violation of labour laws has also been noted in the past by members of the Students’ Welfare Association of the AGSHW in a letter to the Dean of Colleges (Annexure 3 click here). However no action was taken following this either. The misbehavior of the Provost has also been noted by the former Warden of AGSHW Dr. Rochelle Pinto (formerly from Dept. of English, DU) (Annexure 4 click here). In this case as well no action was taken against the Provost. Instead Dr. Pinto’s contract as Warden was not renewed.

In the most recent instance, Mr. Rajesh (a sanitation & house-keeping worker) was badly humiliated and abused by both the Provost and the Provost’s husband on 8th April 2014 while he was working at the Provost’s residence. Following his refusal to work in the Provost’s residence and a request to be given duties within the hostel premises only, he has been further victimized. Once this issue came to the knowledge of the hostel residents on 16th April 2014 pressure was stepped up on the hostel authorities to reinstate him in the hostel (See Annexure 5 and 6 click here and here). He was also supported by other workers in the hostel including other sanitation & house-keeping workers and security guards. This solidarity among the workers and concern among the students for the working condition of the workers in the hostel particularly drew the ire of the Provost. This culminated in the show of hostility by removing 5 out of 6 sanitation & house-keeping workers and 6 security guards from their jobs at the hostel while informing them that they would be absorbed by private agencies. However, while assuring the workers repeatedly that their jobs would not be taken from them, by not only handing them over to private agencies but also seeing to it that they all be removed from work at hostel, hostel authorities have practically wiped their hands off any responsibility.

The workers were informed only on the evening of 30th June 2014 that their contractor would decide where to employ them and they have no say in this matter, nor in that of their wages or timely payment. The workers were kept in the dark until the last day and on 30th they were informed without anything in written that they will be now working through the contractors. The Sulabh International was given the contract for sanitation work in the hostel. Their representative told in front of the Chairperson of the managing committee of AGSHW, representatives of SC/ST Employees’ Welfare Association and New Socialist Initiative that they were instructed by the Provost that these workers were to be removed from the hostel and that this was the reason they told the workers on 30th June late evening to come to LNJP Hospital for new jobs. No appointment letters were given to them. When we spoke to the concerned authorities in Sulabh International regarding this, they categorically said that they were not interested in shifting the workers who have been there for years to some other work site. After Sulabh International came to know about the stories of harassment, humiliation and casteist abuse they said that they don’t want to take up the contract under such administration. Though they brought new workers on the 1st of July who did their duties we were told that they did not sign any formal agreement with the hostel administration. 

On 1st July, after intervention by representatives of New Socialist Initiative and SC/ST Employees’ Welfare Association, an emergency meeting of the Managing Committee was called and in the evening it was told to the workers that they should write their grievances to the Chairperson and Managing Committee and till the time a new decision is not taken workers, if they agree, can work on daily wages. Since these workers are from very poor background they accepted to work on daily wages until the next Managing Committee meeting.

While several complaints have been registered in the past against the autocratic actions of the Provost and Resident Tutor of AGSHW no strict action has been taken against them. It can only be demanded that the Managing Committee will take these matters seriously and act on them with immediate effect as they are equally responsible for the functioning of the hostel. By repeatedly ignoring these complaints despite being in the know and thereby giving allowance to such actions by the Provost and the Resident Tutor, the Managing Committee becomes complicit in the mismanagement of affairs at AGSHW.

In light of the above long record of violations, humiliation, abuse and victimization of the employees of AGSHW by the Provost and the Resident Tutor; today on 7th July New Socialist Initiative submitted a letter to Chairperson of the Managing Committee which was also copied to all members of the Managing Committee and offices of the Vice Chancellor, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Dean of Colleges and the Delhi University Karmachari Union (DUKU).

 In the letter following demands were put forth: 
  1. Ensure an immediate end to the continuous harassment and victimization of the workers in AGSHW by the Provost and Resident Tutor and reinstate all the workers in the capacity in which they were working till 30th June 2014. 
  2. Initiate strict proceedings against the Provost and Resident Tutor for their removal. 
  3. Substantively address the cases of humiliation and caste abuse of the workers in AGSHW by the Provost and initiate strict legal action against her for the same. 
  4. Set in place a grievance redressal mechanism in order to prevent any such further atrocities against the workers. 
  5. Given the past record of private contractors (evidence for which is provided in Annexure 2) and the lack of compliance with the law, we request not to privatise the perennial work of the hostel. 
  6. Settle all past arrears of workers with immediate effect. 
  7. Increase wages from minimum wages to living wages of Rs.12,000 per month 
  8. Number of sanitation & house-keeping worker be increased. 
  9. All official communication with them must be in a language they understand. 

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