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HC raps Sulabh for exploiting AIIMS workers

HC raps Sulabh for exploiting AIIMS workers
Voluntary workers at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) are an unhappy lot. Entitled to minimum wages, according to the Delhi High Court, they have been paid a pittance so far by the Sulabh International Social Service Organisation. Hearing a case on the issue recently, the Delhi HC observed that on one hand the petitioner (Sulabh International) is working for a noble cause, on the other it is exploiting the poor on the pretext of voluntary service.

The court was hearing petitions of Sulabh International and the AIIMS, which had challenged a decision of the Regional Labor Commissioner (RLC) who held that volunteers who had worked at AIIMS through Sulabh International were entitled to minimum wages. The workers had alleged they were given less than minimum wages prescribed under the Minimum Wages Act. There were a bunch of petitions and the high court disposed all of them through a common order.

RLC had held that volunteers have been deployed in the scheduled employment of sweeping and cleaning by Sulabh International directly and they have been deployed by the AIIMS through Sulabh International in scheduled employment and both having satisfied the definition of ‘employer’ are jointly and severally responsible for payment of minimum wages to the employed or deployed. The high court was considering in these writ petitions whether the volunteers, deployed through Sulabh International, are entitled to get minimum wages under the Minimum Wages Act.

Sulabh International counsel said it is not an industry and the provisions of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, are not applicable here as it is a voluntary social service organisation of charitable and philanthropic nature working on no profit and no loss basis. Therefore, it is neither an establishment nor an employer. It further said the persons associated with Sulabh International are not employees or workers, but are associate members of Sulabh International, rendering voluntary social services for the uplift of scavengers. Sulabh International counsel said there is no relationship of employer and employee which is a prerequisite for the application of the Minimum Wages Act, which was also supported by AIIMS counsel.

Refusing to interfere with the order of the RLC, Justice Suresh Kait said: ‘The organisation may be voluntary, but a poor person who has to fill his belly and has dependent members of the family can not afford to be a volunteer. The respondent No. 2 is a person whose survival depends upon whatever given/paid by employer. If he works voluntary even for a day, his family starves.’

Meanwhile, Millennium Post spoke to some of AIIMS workers regarding the issue of minimum wages. In total, there are approximately 700 workers under Sulabh within the campus. They get a salary of Rs 7,200 on monthly basis,’ said Gauri Shankar, a supervisor.

Some workers said they are not paid even what they are promised. They said they get only Rs 6,000 out of Rs 7,200 that they are promised. Sulabh as well as AIIMS authorities denied this, though.
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