Contract hostel workers agitate for job security, government yields.

Nityananda Swami

About 6,000 outsource government hostel workers, whose services were terminated by the previous Congress government in Karnataka, resumed their work after their eight-day mass dharna at Freedom Park in Bengaluru, Karnataka lead to victory.The workers held mass dharna for eight days and seven nights along with their family members. Theor main demand was provision of job security, as was in the past, till they attain the age of retirement.
The coalition government of Karnataka, led by HD Kumaraswamy, finally conceded to their demand and to take all of them back to work and maintain ‘status quo’. A six month time period has been fixed to look into other demands of the workers.

The workers, belonging to the rural section, mostly belong to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Backward and Minority Communities. And majority of them are women. They work as cooks, cleaners and as watchmen in the hostels and residential schools run by the Social Welfare and Backward Communities Welfare department of the government.

The hostel workers are made to work under contractors who exploit them severely by not paying them minimum wages. The provident fund contributions deducted from their wages are not  deposited in the PF Accounts of the workers. The workers who dared to question were removed from their roles.

Attracted by the activities and agitations of agricultural workers union in Kalburgi district, the hostel workers, with the help of agricultural workers union, formed their own state-level organization and started agitating for their demands. Every year they conducted at least two struggles and achieved revision of minimum wages, PF and ESI.

However, in 2016, the Congress government ventured to appoint workers on permanent basis, by holding direct recruitment. Because of this, equal number of contract workers would lose their jobs. In spite of opposition by these contract workers, the government completed the process of recruitment.

The contract workers held an indefinite dharna at Bengaluru in January 2018 for five days. With the assembly elections fast approaching, the government was forced to announce postponement of issuing appointment orders to the newly recruited candidates.

Later, the High Court of Karnataka passed an order in the favour of the permanent candidates and the outsourced contract workers were sent away. A large number of them were physically handicapped women, widows, single women and women deserted by their husbands.

As an immediate step, an indefinite dharna was held in Bengaluru on June 27 where more than 2,000 workers, mostly women participated. The CITU, AIKS, AIDWA, AIAWU, SFI, DYFI and other organisations, extended their unstinted solidarity and support.

On the eighth day (July 4,  2018), the chief minister, invited the leaders for discussion. After hearing them out, he said that he was pained to see poor women workers going on dharna without food and shelter. He pointed that the decision to send them out of their jobs was the decision of the previous government. He also assured that he would discuss the issue in the cabinet meeting and come up with a humanitarian solution.

Accordingly, the  Minister for Social Welfare,  Priyanka Kharge and the Minister for Backward Classes Puttaranga Shetty, came to the place of dharna and reported the decision of the government. The agitation was withdrawn and all the workers went back to work after one month. The victory is being celebrated in all the districts by holding district conventions.



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