JNU: Mess and sanitation workers protest due to non-payment of salaries

The sanitation and mess workers of JNU boycotted work on Thursday and are continuing with their indefinite sit-in protest because of non-payment of salaries for three months

JNU campus
JNU campus

Ashlin Mathew

The sanitation and mess workers of New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) boycotted work on Thursday and are continuing with their indefinite sit-in protest at the office of Dean of Students because of non-payment of salaries for three months.

When the workers had begun their protest on May 3, they had not been paid since January, but the salary for the month of January was given on May 4. The workers are still waiting for the salaries for the month of February, March and April. The workers also alleged that they have been denied duty for demanding the release of pending salary of three months.

The administration informed both the mess and sanitation workers that a rotation system would be put in place for the workers, which means that the number of work days for each worker would reduce and they will not be able to work for 26 days. The workers will get paid their full monthly wages of around Rs 30,000 only if they work for 26 days.

The workers have pointed out that their number has reduced since 2020 and the workers have demanded that the number of workers be increased to as many as there were in the beginning of 2020. The number of JNU students has not reduced, so the work hasn’t reduced, the workers stated.

“It’s been four months since our salaries have been given. My salary for a month in 2020 also has not been given. They keep asking me to file applications. I have. Now it is 2022. We can only complain to our supervisor and they say they don’t know. What are we to do in between this? How long will we keep taking loans to run our homes,” asked Gudiya, a mess worker who was protesting for the non-payment of wages.

Sanitation worker Rakesh said they get one month salary after five months. “What can we do with one month salary? They have now removed us from our jobs because we demanded our salaries. Everyone plays with the lives of the poor,” lamented Rakesh.

A helper at Sabarmati hostel mess, Neeru said she was facing extreme financial distress as she has not been paid for three months. She has been threatened by her landlord for not paying the rent. “Where are we supposed to get money from? We had to borrow money so that we weren’t kicked out. We also have to pay fees of our children. We want them to do better than us. But, the system will not even allow us to aspire for small improvements in our lives. We are extremely worried and disturbed. We have been threatened with expulsion if we do complain,” added Neeru.

“This is an illegal way to impose more work on every worker. Such arbitrary decisions should stop. You cannot take away someone’s job in the blink of an eye. They also have families to feed and these are poorer people. We should not be harsh,” said Sucheta De, the National Vice-President of the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU). Both AICCTU and AISA are affiliated with the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation.

On Friday, De was declared “out of bounds” of the university campus by the administration for “undesirable activities”. De was the JNUSU President in 2012 from the All India Students’ Association (AISA).

In an office order dated May 5, Chief Proctor Rajnish Kumar Mishra, wrote, “In view of the undesirable activities of the Ms Sucheta De, an ex-student of the School of Social Sciences of the University, the Vice-Chancellor in exercise of her powers vested in her under Statute 32 of the Statutes of the University, has ordered that the entire JNU campus is declared out of bounds with immediate effect.”

The notice also said, “Anyone giving shelter to Ms Sucheta De in any premises of the University will invite strict disciplinary action against him/her”.

De said that this was plain and simple muscle flexing. “The order says I’m being stopped for ‘undesirable activities’. The administration must make it clear what undesirable activity I have undertaken. I‘m a union leader, and if there is an agitation by a workers union affiliated with AICCTU inside JNU, how can I be stopped? JNU cannot block a free citizen from moving around and especially a trade union activist when the rights of workers have been repeatedly violated,” explained De.

She reiterated that the protest would continue and at least the salary for two months should be immediately released. The workers are demanding that the work days should not be reduced; a written assurance should be given that they will be paid within 7th of every month. The workers also want the implementation of equal pay for equal work. Workers are not getting paid equally, underscored De.

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