In a major victory for 469 contractor labourers working with the civic body, the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC) has deposited an amount of Rs 38 crore in their accounts by way of arrears and interest on unpaid amount, following an order by the Supreme Court.
Claiming that the labourers have won a hard-fought 20-year-long battle, labour leader Yashwant Bhosale, president of the Rashtriya Shramik Aghadi, on Tuesday said the court judgment will now become a precedent and the contract labourers will be treated on par with permanent employees in terms of salaries. “We fought a court battle with the PCMC for 20 years to get justice for contract labourers, who basically are safai karmacharis,” said Bhosale.
He said the PCMC had allocated the cleanliness contract of various departments — slum rehabilitation, civil works, health — and of YCM Hospital to Sulabh International, Vishal Enterprises and M P Enterprises from January 1998 to 2004. “… The Rashtriya Shramik Aghadi had been demanding equal pay, equal work for these labourers. However, the PCMC refused to accept our demand. Our organisation then filed a petition in the Bombay High Court in 2001, demading that the labourers be made permanent and they should get equal pay as per the law…,” Bhosale said.
In 2004, the court ruled that the contractors had the primary responsibility of paying wages to these employees. “The court also said if the contractors are unable to pay wages to these labourers, then the civic body should shoulder the responsibility..The court also directed the civic body to pay Rs 16.8 crore arrears under the Minimum Wages Act. The PCMC refused to implement the HC order. Instead, it appealed against the order in the Supreme Court and secured a stay. It sacked all the contract labourers. However, the SC upheld the HC ruling on January 12, 2016,” said Bhosale.
The organisation then demanded that the SC order be implemented by the PCMC, but the civic body didn’t do so. Bhosale said his organisation then filed a contempt plea against the then municipal commissioner in November 2016, in the Bombay High Court. “The hearing went on till 2018. During the hearing, the PCMC claimed that it could not verify the labourers who worked with it. The High Court asked the additional labour commissioner to cross-check civic records with the list of labourers’ names provided by the organisation. The additional labour commissioner reported that out of 572 labourers, he had identified 469 labourers who worked with the PCMC. The court asked PCMC to pay wages to these labourers under the equal work, equal pay law, and the arrears and interest amount for all these years. The High Court asked the PCMC to pay Rs 16.9 crore with 9 per cent interest for 16 years. The PCMC again went to the Supreme Court, which has asked the civic body to pay the amount within 90 days to the labourers,” he said
When contacted, Municipal Commissioner Shravan Hardikar said,”We have deposited Rs 38 crore in the accounts of the labourers as per the direction of the Supreme Court.”
The PCMC chief said the contractors were supposed to pay the labourers as per the Works Act. “However, they failed to do so. There was a difference in the amount paid to permanent employees and the contract employees. The contractors failed to pay as per the law and as per the contract signed with them. Therefore, we had to pay the amount with 9 per cent interest for 16 years,” he said.
Hardikar said the civic body has started the process of recovering the amount from the contractors. “We will recover Rs 38 crore from the contractors,” he said.
Describing it as a historic verdict, Bhosale said, “We faced several hurdles, including financial problems, in fighting the case. However, the final verdict has brought the labourers the biggest cheer… When labour laws are changing, an atmosphere of fear prevails among contract labourers, this verdict will bring relief to them.”
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