Vol. XLIII No. 23 June 09, 2019

Tamil Nadu: E-Sevai, Aadhaar Employees’ Hunger Strike

K C Gopikumar

NEARLY 800 e-Sevai and Aadhaar enrolment workers from Tamil Nadu went on hunger strike against the closure of the e-Sevai centres. The workers, on May 31, held hunger strike in 20 district centres across the state, demanding a minimum wage of Rs 18,000. They also took to streets and protested against illegal deduction of salaries, and demanded better working conditions.

The Tamil Nadu state government, in 2014, started around 1,000 e-Sevai centers across the state under the Digital India scheme. The operations of the services have been undertaken by the state government-owned Tamil Nadu Arasu Cable TV Corporation (TACTV) and for the past five years, the centre has been offering a variety of services for the common people including Aadhaar enrolment.

The workers have been struggling with many issues over the past five months. The government offered them meagre salaries of Rs 8,000 but have been paying only Rs 7,675. Of this amount, the contractors have been illegally deducting huge amounts, from Rs 2,500 to Rs 3,500 since September 2018. The UNITE has raised the issue with the deputy commissioner of labour, Tamil Nadu. The principal employer TACTV, however, has refused to implement the union’s demands before the labour commissioner.

The e-Sevai centres have been outsourced to private contractors who hire workers on contract basis. Union of Information Technology and IT-Enabled Services Employees (UNITE), a registered trade union, mobilised the workers and submitted a charter of demands to the TACTV, the principal employer, and to the contractors. The TACTV management, however, refused to budge to the legitimate demands of the employees and started threatening the employees.

The UNITE also objected to the employees being made to buy stationary and other essential items to run the office with their own money. The union also demanded issuance of ID card to all the employees. It objected the procedure of sending official data to head office through private email services, highlighting that it can affect the secrecy of the sensitive information related to the customers’ Aadhaar card and bank account details.

The union noted that there is a need to make the working atmosphere more gender-sensitive as many centres lack minimum toilet facilities or proper ventillation. They sought installation of a committee against sexual harassment as per the guidelines of the Visakha judgment.

The workers’ other demands include implementation of all basic trade union laws like maternity leave, casual leave, annual increments and bonus. They also demanded reimbursement of the amount deducted from their salaries over the past seven months. Free medical treatment through Employees’ State Insurance (ESI) and prompt linking of their accounts with Employee Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) are part of their demands charter.

For long, UNITE conducted protests on Sundays so far, so as to not affect the public. The government, on the other hand, has not agreed to any of the workers’ demands and this led to the employees going on the hunger strike on May 31, a Friday when it is a peak day for services.