ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Recognising Their Own Strength

The legal victory of Mumbai’s sanitation workers reiterates the power of collective bargaining.

After a protracted legal battle that lasted 10 years and went from the Industrial Tribunal to the Bombay High Court, and ultimately to the Supreme Court, 2,700 sanitation workers in Mumbai will now have permanent jobs with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). At all three levels, the cases went in favour of the workers and it was the BMC that appealed—and lost—each time. While this is an undoubted triumph for the workers and the Kachra Vahatuk Shramik Sangh (KVSS) that has organised them, it is also an endorsement of the spirit of collective bargaining and unionising. It is an affirmation—in the face of the weakening of the trade union movement in India and the loud chorus that revels in chanting its death knell—that a union that strategises carefully and reaches out to civil society for solidarity can achieve results. Yet, this legal victory should not be viewed as the end of the struggle for these workers.

Collecting garbage and transporting it results in terrible skin and respiratory diseases for these “invisible” workers who mostly hail from the lowest rungs in the caste hierarchy. Like their counterparts, the sewerage workers, these sanitation workers also perform a job that is indispensable in the daily functioning of Mumbai and other rapidly expanding urban centres. How­ever, such work also relegates them to the status of persons who are not acknowledged by society at large even for their work, let alone as individuals. Many of them are addicted to alcohol in order to deaden their senses to the surroundings at work and where they live. And yet, it is these very men and women who are expected to work without job security, sick leave, compensation to their families in the case of death on the job, or any other welfare measure to which organised government and civic ­employees are entitled. The KVSS, however, like a few other ­unions, such as the organisation of rag and waste pickers, is fighting to ensure that this invisibility and silence is lifted and the demands and struggles of casual sanitation workers gain public and official attention. It has also gained substantial victories in terms of getting payment of minimum wages for sanitation workers along with other benefits.

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Updated On : 28th Aug, 2017

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