The Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) administration on November 10, 2021 attempted to curb labour rights by barring strikes and unions, said the All India General Kamgar Union (AIGKU) on December 13, 2021.
At a press conference to expose the administration’s exploitative behaviour, union members talked about how the new contractor Sudarshan Facilities Private Limited tried to force workers to sign “conditions of service”, that said workers will never go on strike or become members of any union. All workers, students and teachers present at the conference agreed that the JNU administration or any private company has no right to make their employees sign such a document.
One of the sanitation work supervisors, Govind Kumars had told other workers as much. Shortly after, the company told him that his service was no longer needed. The AICCTU considered this a “clear victimisation of an educated Dalit youth for being aware of his rights and making his colleagues aware of the same.”
Addressing the press meet Kumar said, “We fulfill our duty and demand our legal rights. I am being punished for raising a collective demand of payment of wages to the labour commissioner and pointing out illegal practice by the private company. JNU admin cannot treat their workers like this.”
Kumar referred to the order of Equal Pay for Equal Work given by the office of the Labour Commissioner in 2018 that mandated the administration to pay contractual workers at par with permanent employees. The AIGKU fought a long battle for this order. Yet, the JNU Vice-Chancellor, Registrar, Deputy Registrar and Sanitation Officer continue to ignore this order.
Aside from Kumar, other workers too raised their voice only to have their salaries deducted. A new contractor warned workers of retrenchment if they raised their voice and allegedly verbally abused them with casteist slurs.
Reacting to this, JNU Teachers Association’s (JNUTA) Amit Thorat said, “The JNUTA has told the registrar categorically that casteist abuse and victimisation of sanitation workers will not be tolerated on the campus. We demand that Kumar is given his job back immediately. JNU administration and the private company are accountable to us as to why an illegal document forbidding unionisation is being forced on sanitation workers.”
Similarly, AICCTU member Sucheta De said, “The workers union has raised all the illegal practices in JNU at every office. Is it so easy to violate law in a central university like JNU? Is the central government allowing such casteist exploitative practice against workers?”
For the last two years, the JNU administration forced workers to labour months together without payment. When the Covid-19 lockdown was announced, the contractual mess workers were asked to stop working. As the campus was reopened in phases, some workers were called back and forced to work for several months without wages. This was to ‘recover’ the salary for the initial months of lockdown.
“The practice of forcing workers to pay without salary is blatantly illegal according to the Payment of Wages Act,” said the AICCTU in a press release.
It condemned how the administration even denied the legally mandated bonus to all contractual workers for the last three years.
JNU Student Union President Aishe Ghosh condemned this incident by saying, “The workers keep our campus running. It is the responsibility of the JNU administration as the primary employer to guarantee that all such illegal practices stop right now.”
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