The joint struggle of various unions started from the 1st of july across the state of Karnataka. There was a call for complete strike by sanitation workers (Powrakarmikara) that includes women workers who sweep the road and male workers who take the charge of collecting garbage and transporting it to the dumping yard; all the workers are predominantly dalits. In 2017, there was a big struggle that took place for three days with the demand for permanent jobs since many of them were under contracts but the movement resulted in bringing those who do the work of sweeping under direct payment system, wherein payments were made by the municipality (urban local body) but for the garbage workers the contract system continued. This contract system was/is extremely exploitative and sham system. Those who are on a direct payment system contract are paid minimum wages 12-13k but those who are permanent workers(very few) are paid around 35-40k; even though they do the same work but there is a great disparity in payment.
The whole demand of the movement was to make all workers permanent because keeping them under this insecure service is very illegal and violates the fundamental principles of the constitution. All workers are from dalit community and women sweepers face triple oppression of caste-class-gender exploitation over the years and now even for most of them even minimum wages are not paid; further what adds to make their condition misrable is that they do not get paid regularly.
The struggle was led under the joint forum for Powrakarmikara, which includes several organisations(mainly BBMP Powrakarmikara Sangha, Karnataka Pragatipara Powarakarmika Sangha) across the state. On the first day of the strike, leaders of the struggle had a meeting with the Chief Minister of the state and he gave various assurances that within three months, workers would be made permanent, contract system would be removed for them and there would be a comprehensive policy to look at the welfare of sanitation workers and leaders of the movement asked him to give all these in writing — but the next day when they gave it in writing they did not mention all these main issues and the timeline for making them permanent, therefore the strike continues till all of their demands are met. Basic amenities like toilet and drinking water are not provided; workers work from 6 am in the morning till 2 pm in the afternoon and there is no holiday for them, no national holiday, no weekly off, no festival holiday and they work 365 days. Moreover, they are treated with disrespect, facing indignation for their labour and ensuring dignity of labour is needed that comes through the process of struggle. On 4th of july the movement took an historic turn where Karnataka government agreed to make jobs for all sanitation workers under direct payment system within the time of three months, IPD Salappa report to be implemented, benifits of housing, education for their children and maternity health for Powrakarmikas to be provided, and with this the relentless fight by sanitation workes comes to an victorious end.
Resource person – Maitreyi Krishnan
Picters- Nikhil Cariappa & Twitter