After a long struggle led by Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP) members in Pimpri-Chinchwad, the contractors appointed by the civic administration have finally paid complete minimum wages to wastepickers in the city.
The KKPKP said on August 7 that workers were paid Rs 17,015 for 26 days of work instead of Rs Rs 12,845, which was paid until last month.
“I am so happy, I have been calling all my relatives announcing this win that we have finally earned our wages, not only by our labour but by our struggles. Now, I don’t have to send my son to work and will be able to allow him to study without the pressure of earning,” said Shital Giramkar, a wastepicker.
The KKPKP said that on February 24, 2015, the Industries, Energy and Labour Department, Maharashtra created a new category under the Minimum Wages Act, ‘Employment under any Local Authority (excluding Gram Panchayats)’, to determine payment for all contract workers employed by local authorities.
Since 2018, the KKPKP said it had been pursuing their inclusion, which would also impact at least 2,000 other contract workers in allied cleaning services like toilet cleaners, drinking water tank cleaners and road sweepers.
According to the KKPKP, the Additional Labour Commissioner, Pune City in a letter dated November 19, 2019, had directed the then municipal commissioner of Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC) to pay all contract workers as per the February 2015 notification. “The ex-commissioner’s order issued on February 12, 2020 making the new wage rates applicable to all contract workers from January 1, 2020 was not implemented,” it said.
The KKPKP said that on March 9, 2021, the Joint Secretary (Labour) wrote to the Commissioner, PCMC, in response to a clarification sought by the PCMC that wages to all contract workers must be paid as per local body wages.
Simultaneously, KKPKP members reached out to all 125 elected representatives in the civic body of which 107 supported the demand, writing to the Mayor, Commissioner and Chairperson of the Standing Committee, urging implementation.
Rekha Sapkal, another KKPKP member, said, “This increase has been long due but even so, we are happy that PCMC has finally agreed to comply to official minimum wage rates. It is only because we fought, protested and pursued the issue that our wages have increased, or else the PCMC would have continued paying us incorrectly. We will now be able to pay off debts incurred by us due to Covid.”
Chaya Tribhuvan, board member of KKPKP, said, “This struggle started in 2012 when we started demanding minimum wage contracts instead of honorarium-based contracts. After a long period of protesting outside the PCMC, we got the illegal practice of non-minimum wage contracts suspended. For the last few years, we have been fighting for correct rates to be paid for our labour. I genuinely do not understand this, if it is the law, why do we have to keep fighting for our wages?”
She added, “This battle is only half won. We have been to court before and will go again if we are forced to, but the PCMC owes us money from February 24, 2015, not January 1, 2020. This is our rightful money earned by our blood and sweat, no one can take it away from us.”
Shrenik Mutha, activist with KKPKP, said, “The LWO’s letter to the Health HO suggests that arrears be paid from January 1, 2020. Is the PCMC waiving its responsibility as principal employer to ensure complete minimum wages to workers from the date of issuance of the notification to its workers? Is there anyone in the PCMC who will support wastepickers’ lawful demand for arrears since 2015 or will waste pickers have to go to court again? These are questions the PCMC must answer.”