At least 56 housekeeping staff, who were fired by National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) Hyderabad, approached the Labour Commissioner Wednesday and lodged a complaint that they have been sacked as retaliation for lodging a sexual harassment complaint against a NIFT official last October.
On Tuesday, NIFT had asked all the 56 housekeeping staff — 46 women and 10 men contract workers outsourced from Murali Manpower Services who have been working at the Institute for more than 10 years — to leave stating that their work was shoddy.
“They were unable to maintain cleanliness in the campus and were thus asked to leave. But as they launched a protest we have withdrawn the notice. They may join work again from Thursday. Their contract with NIFT ends on June 30 after which we will take a call. As for the allegations of sexual harassment against our staffer, the Internal Complaints Committee is investigating it and will submit a report shortly,” Joint Director Dr GHS Prasad told The Indian Express.
NIFT Hyderabad currently does not have a director. Prof V Sivalingam, director at Bengaluru, holds additional charge of Hyderabad too. He did not take calls.
According to M Muralidhar, head of Murali Manpower Agencies which has deputed the 56 workers to NIFT, they have been working there for several years. “Some of the women have worked at NIFT for 12-15 years. Last September, there were complaints against some of them that they had become lazy and were not working properly. B Srinivas Reddy, who works in the administration department complained against them and asked me to withdraw them and send new staff. I do not know if the women were really not working properly as I did not go and inspect. These women are well-entrenched there and are reluctant to leave. Last October, the women lodged a complaint against Srinivas Reddy accusing him of sexually harassing them,’’ he said.
Muralidhar said that as his quotation is the lowest, he has been getting the contract to provide housekeeping staff at NIFT for many years. “Two years ago I got the contract again for three years but NIFT decided to terminate it at the end of this month and call for fresh quotations. They put a clause that existing housekeeping staff should be replaced. As my bid was the lowest again, I got the contract and I have to follow the new rule. The women got to know of it and have launched the protest,’’ Muralidhar said.
Assistant Commissioner of Police, Madhapur Zone, N Shyam Prasad Rao said that on October 19 last year, a woman housekeeping staff of NIFT lodged a complaint accusing Reddy of sexually harassing her and three other women.
“She stated in her complaint that Reddy used to make vulgar and suggestive comments and demand sexual favours from them. She alleged that he used to hold some of the women and ask them to visit his home when he was alone. She stated that he demanded that only good looking women should work near his chamber. A case was registered at Madhapur Police station under sections 354 and 354 D. I am investigating the case and am still in the process of collecting evidence. These workers were pulled up several times by Reddy last year for not working properly,” the ACP said.
Police sources said that in the preliminary probe, cops felt that it was a motivated complaint because Reddy was pulling up the housekeeping staff almost on a daily basis for shoddy maintenance of the campus and had also complained to the director that they should be removed.
Ratna Kumari, 41, the supervisor of the housekeeping staff posted at NIFT says that Reddy was not authorised to interact with the housekeeping staff and it was not his responsibility. “He is a stenographer there but interferes in security and housekeeping matters. He claims that the institute’s director has asked him to keep tabs on the campus. He has harassed several women. The ICC took our statements but has neither submitted report nor taken any action.
Accusing us of not working properly, NIFT has curtailed the three-year contract after two years and has called for fresh tenders in which they put a fresh clause that whoever gets the contract should replace the existing housekeeping staff. We only have time till June 30 to protest against this decision. They are forcing us to leave only because we filed that sexual harassment complaint. Since last two days, NIFT is not allowing us inside the campus. We can only protest till we are associated with NIFT that is till June 30 after which we won’t be allowed to work there. Without considering that we are poor and illiterate and won’t find jobs easily they are throwing us out mercilessly,’’ she said.