The JNUTA notes with great concern that today is the fourth day of the strike of the contractual workers of the university. Distressingly, there appears to be no serious attempts to resolve the crisis, which has resulted in illegal and unacceptable violations of several labour laws and the right to a dignified life and livelihood of scores of workers and their families. The problems that most of the contractual workers are facing are grave and are listed below:
- Over the past few years, JNU contract workers have been paid at unbearably irregular intervals—on more than one occasion, as many as 3 months of wages have been left outstanding by the contractor engaged by the JNU. Despite the fact that this is a blatant violation of the Payment of Wages Act, by which wages need to be paid by the 7th of each month, the JNU administration appears to be unconcerned about such wilful negligence by the contractor. Instead of taking the Max Maintenance Company, which was initially contracted for sanitation services, to task for its several infractions of the law (besides late salaries, EPF has also not been paid), it has recently rewarded the same company with the additional contract for the mess services in the university as well.
- There had been a drastic cut in the number of workers during the lockdown period since 2020. However, even after the campus has reopened, the number of workers has not been increased commensurate to the total workload, for both the sanitation and the mess workers. For example, the current strength of the workers engaged in garbage collection and disposal work has been reduced from 42 in early 2020 to around 30 as of now. There are reports of further retrenchment of mess and sanitation workers in the hostels even as they are reaching their full capacity. Other than the complete or partial loss of work for many workers, this has resulted in inhuman working conditions for the workers who continue on duty as the work burden per worker has increased manifold. In particular, the retrenchment of sanitation workers has resulted in disproportionate loss of jobs for women dalit workers, who constitute around half of the total workers in this sector in the University.
- Currently, the contractual workers receive nearly 1/3rd of the pay of the permanent workers. The Deputy Labour Commissioner had issued an order of ‘Equal Pay for Equal Work’ in 2018, which has not been implemented by the JNU administration till date.
In sum, over the last few years in particular, the discriminatory and illegal treatment meted out to contractual workers in JNU has worsened. The JNUTA is alarmed to see that this inhuman treatment continues unabated under the new administration. The continuing refusal to attend to the workers’ just demands also exhibits extreme callousness, as it targets those very workers who had put their lives and health at great risk to selflessly serve the residents of the campus when the pandemic was at its deadliest in the summer months of 2021.
As a campus community, we have witnessed the far-reaching and long-lasting consequences of unjust treatment of our colleagues in the staff. In 2018-19, the summary retrenchment of the bulk of the then serving security guards of the university has just a couple of years later resulted in a situation where the security of individuals and residences on this campus has been thoroughly compromised. We are therefore apprehensive that the insensitivity of the current JNU administration will have a significant bearing on the maintenance of sanitation and other services in the hostels and the campus. At a time when the Covid numbers rise daily in Delhi and NCR, the JNUTA underlines the urgency of an immediate resolution of the current crisis.
The JNU administration has allegedly cited the massive financial deficit, which has allegedly increased more than fourfold in the past Vice-Chancellor’s tenure, as the primary reason for its inability to work towards a resolution of the workers’ problems. At the very least, this situation requires a thorough investigation in terms of the quality of spending and processes followed for such spending in the past six years. The deficit has in fact increased in spite of reduction of contractual workers for essential services and academic expenditures which has a direct connect with the excellence of a university. The audited annual accounts for 2020-21 have not yet been made publicly available one year later. The JNUTA fails to see why the most vulnerable section on the campus has to bear the consequences of what appears to be at best a case of financial mismanagement, and at worst, of financial irregularities by the JNU administration in the past years.
The JNUTA would also like to emphasise that such egregious violations of labour laws are completely inconsistent with the idea of a public university, and represent a shameful departure from the traditions of the JNU campus. In JNU, expressions of solidarity with the just demands of workers by students, teachers, members of the public, has never been treated as ‘undesirable activity’ but as evidence of social responsibility that the university’s culture seeks to inculcate in each of its constituents. The JNUTA strongly condemns the ‘out-of-bounds’ order issued against Dr. Sucheta De, the former JNUSU president and the current National Vice President of AICCTU.
The JNUTA urges the university administration to immediately resolve the workers’ problems and to accede to their justified demands.