Millennium Post

Aam Aadmi Party and aggrieved workmen

And this is the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) effect that the aspiration contractual workers of Delhi broke all the barriers and what resulted into the maiden ‘Janta Darbar’ organised by our chief minister. Due to advent of big fishes into the Delhi’s economy, the contractual labour class has seen a phenomenal rise. On the other hand, the apathy of political class, negativism of the administrative machinery and the loath approach of judiciary towards this class have multiplied the miseries and plight of the contractual labours. Due to the sword of hire and fire on their neck, the fear tactics of pick and choose, almost discretionary disciplinary proceeding, panel transfers on whims and fancies have been dodging the normal and natural anger and outburst of this class. It was this eruption of the same what the new government witnessed.

The problems faced by these contractual workers are numerous and enormous. They are not even paid the minimum wages. The Minimum Wage Rates are set by the appropriate government but the machinery to monitor its implementation is almost nil. The authority under Minimum Wages Act as delegated to DLCs remains busy dealing with only the complaints which, anyhow, reach to them. Normally, the aggrieved workmen prefer to suffer than to complaint. They, hardly, muster their courage to complain against the employer for payment of low wages. Illiteracy and semi literacy, fear of being fired out and resulting starvation are big impediments in the way. And once, anyhow, the complaints reaches to the authority, starts the legal intricacies of several provisions of labour laws, the impressive tactics of management and the attitude of the authority dealing with such complaints. The rule of strong ill economic might of the management is rampant in such proceeding. This process of venting to the grievances of this class is nothing but a deterrent of making a complaint for non payment of set out minimum rates of wages. The role of authorised representative and office bearers of trade unions are also not unblemished.

In the name of social securities, the legal executives and managers of the managements draft very fine schemes and policies. This is a basket full of schemes and policies for the workers. But they are merely on papers and/or are used to satisfy the authorities dealing with the complaints. ESI, PF, gratuity, bonus are starred on the documents of the management but they are hardly available to them. Now-a-days, the companies first recruit and engage the workers directly but at the time of payment of their wages, they are shown on the roll of contractors or intermediaries. Loyalists of the company, erstwhile officers or the kith and keen of the management often play the role of intermediaries. These intermediaries create a smoke screen between the company and these workers. Further, the workers of a company are divided into groups and are shown on the roll of different intermediaries. These intermediaries are shifted and regulated by the company in such a manner that they could easily escape the liability to apply the provisions of labour law. The workers continued to work as it is but the intermediaries are changed or shifted from one group to another. In almost all companies the paper works pertaining to this ill design are carried out by the personnel of the company and the intermediaries are made to sign only. For this obligation these intermediaries are highly paid by the company.

The said tactics are adopted by the company to keep the workers away from claiming to permanency and regularisation and from the entitlement of several legal benefits. For example, in power sector companies, almost all works have been outsourced to few big contractors. These big contractors distribute the said works amongst the several sub-contractors. These sub-contractors assign the works to the petty contractors. These petty contractors squeeze their profit by spending the minimum possible wages to the contract workers. Not only the petty contractors but the big contractors are also rotated from one place to other or from one company to other for different durations. They change even their names and style to suit the companies. This has been systematised to maintain the slogan of ‘different contractor’ for ‘different period’. The petty contractors are rotated by the big contractors from one site to another in such a manner that they could escape the legal obligations of labour laws while the workers at the site continue therein and also what continues is their exploitation.
There is an unwritten policy of  ‘take it or leave it’ adopted by the contractors. If the workers take the job, they have to suffer exploitation and if they leave the job, they face the situation of starvation. And what is the fault of these workers? Their fault is that they are poor and unemployed which force them to work at the mercy intermediaries. 

The contract workers who are ready, willing and able to work regularly have been left at the hand of contractors and intermediaries by the governments. After all they are also the citizen of this country. They are also having their fundamental rights as enshrined into the Constitution of India as right to earn and right to live. Who will protect them when the government itself throws the perennial nature of jobs to be done on contract basis. In the name of the poor, several welfare schemes are being floated. The situation is alarming and needs immediate action.

The author is an advocate practicing in the Supreme Court
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