Alok Kumar, Secretary
Delhi Nirman Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti
Since the beginning of August, the Delhi Nirman Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti has been mobilizing workers employed in Miranda House College against their exploitation. The trade union has been mobilizing workers since the commencement of construction work at the various Commonwealth Games work sites. It is, in fact, the only trade union of construction workers in the city. Despite the difficulties in mobilizing an unorganized work force like construction workers, the union has constantly made successful interventions. The struggle of workers at Miranda House marked its fifth successful intervention in Commonwealth Games construction sites. The details of the Miranda House struggle follow.
On August 6, 2010 the workers sat on a dharna outside the college, following which they took out a rally around the University campus. The latter was aimed at reaching out to construction workers employed at other work sites in Delhi University. On not receiving a response from the Miranda House authorities on their demands, the workers decided to sit on dharna outside the college office on August 12. They were supported in their struggle by the college students and members of the Miranda House Staff Association such as the Secretary, Ms. Nandini Dutta. The struggle was also supported by women and youth organizations like Centre For Struggling Women (CSW) and Krantikari Yuva Sangathan (KYS).
The workers and students/teachers, under the banner of the Delhi Nirman Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti, were protesting the non-payment of wages due to the workers. They were also protesting several other violations of labour laws such as those pertaining to payment for overtime, mandatory weekly rest, etc. The workers at Miranda House had not been paid for the entire one month and four days for which they worked at the college. Furthermore, the rate of payment fixed by the contractor, Ms. Payal was well below the legal minimum wage rate. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the contractor defaulted in paying the workers and continuously violated several labour laws, the principal employer, i.e. the college Principal, Ms. Pratibha Jolly refused to step in and release the workers’ arrears. She, in fact, tried to act as a negotiator between the contractor and the union, something which the union vehemently opposed. Under the pressure applied by the union, on August 4, a small part of the workers’ dues was released with no further surety provided by the college administration to look into the other key demands of the workers. The protest held by workers on August 6, fell on deaf years.
Finally, after waiting till August 12, for a formal response from the Principal, the workers and the union decided to sit in protest, once again, against this high-handed and insensitive behavior on the part of the principal employer. As a backlash the college administration called in the Delhi Police who immediately started intimidating and manhandling the workers and students sitting on protest. Meanwhile, inside the college committee room, the Principal, the contractor, etc. refused to negotiate a written agreement. After much deliberation it was agreed to get the accounts together, for which the union sat down. Exact calculations of the payments due to the workers, and that too at Delhi’s daily minimum wage rate, were made and submitted for negotiation by the Delhi Nirman Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti.
While the negotiation proceeded, students and workers addressed Miranda House students who had congregated. In the discussion that took place it was pointed out by the Union as well as others present that it was shameful the way Miranda House hostellers were evicted from the hostel last moment (i.e. just two weeks before college reopened), followed then by this blatant and heartless exploitation of labourers employed at the hostel renovation site. The assembly of students and workers present was also formally addressed by Sri Narendarji, executive member of Indian Council of Trade Unions (ICTU) and the Secretary of Delhi Nirman Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti. Alok Kumar, Secretary of the Delhi Nirman Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti, in his address, congratulated the workers for their endeavours and stated that the union’s initiative would now be to bring together workers from all the different work sites in the area. He spoke of intensifying the struggle and speculated that if the workers demands were not met by Miranda House Principal and the contractor, then the workers would not hesitate in striking work in the college.
It is clear from this instance that workers are willing to mobilize and use the strength of their organizations to fight back against their brutal exploitation. As members of the construction workers’ organization, we seek support of other democratic and progressive sections in this fight for justice.
LIST OF LABOUR LAWS VIOLATED BY CHIEF EMPLOYER i.e., PRINCIPAL OF MIRANDA HOUSE & THE CONTRACTOR, Ms PAYAL
Principal of Miranda House, Ms. Pratibha Jolly, is the principal employer and she is the one who is the key violator of set labour law norms.
• According to section 21 (2) of The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970, every principal employer shall nominate a representative duly authorized by him to be present at the time of disbursement of wages by the contractor and it shall be the duty of the representative to certify the amounts paid as wages. In section 21 (3) it is further emphasized that it is the duty of the contractor to ensure the disbursement of wages in the presence of the authorized representative of the principal employer. As delineated in Section 21 (4), in case the contractor fails to make the payment of wages within the prescribed period or make short payment, then the principal employer shall be liable to make payment of wages in full or the unpaid balance due. [See Cominco Benani Zinc ltd. v. Pappachan, 1989 LLR 123 (Kerela).
• The Building and other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996. Section 45 specifies that if the contractor fails to make payment of wages then the employer/principal employer is liable to make all the payments. Also see The Payment of Wages Act, 1936, section 3 (2).
• Section 30 of the Building and other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 prescribes proper norms for maintenance of registers and records. For liability of principal employer in this regard also see Minimum Wages Act, 1948, section 18 (1) and section 21 (1), (2) of The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970
Other Norms violated by both principal employer and contractor:
• Section 28 (1) (b) of The Building and other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 prescribes a day of rest in every period of 7 days with payment for the day of rest.
• Section 28 (1) (c) this Act of states that if work is carried on the day of rest, a worker is to be given the overtime rate specified in section 29.
• Section 29 (1) prescribes that any work above the normal work day should be given twice the ordinary rate of wages.
• The Minimum Wages Act, 1948, Section 17 prescribes that when an employee is employed on piece rate, the amount of wages paid cannot be less than that paid for minimum time rate. Also see Section 3 (2) (d).
• Section 25 prescribes that when a contract or agreement is being made between employer and employee whereby the employee relinquishes or reduces his right to a minimum rate of wages or any privilege or concession accruing to him under this act, then such a contract/agreement shall be null and void, and employees have to be paid according to the legally prescribed minimum wage.
• Section 12 (2), Comments (ii) states clearly that where a person provides labour or service to another for remuneration which is less than the minimum wages, such labour is “forced labour” within the meaning of article 23 of the Constitution and thereby entitles the person to invoke article 32 or article 226 of the Constitution of India.
• Moreover, there was a violation of many other norms mentioned in Building and other Construction Workers Act. There are no provisions made for facilities like crèches, canteen, latrines/urinals, accommodation, drinking water, etc. Prescribed safety and health measures are also being violated.
• The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970 in Section 29 (2) prescribes that every principal employer and every contractor has to exhibit notices of particulars like the hours of work, wages, nature of duty, etc.
• According to The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, women workers are liable to be paid equal wages.
• Supreme Court Guidelines (in Vishaka Judgement 1996) prescribe the constitution of anti-sexual harassment complaints committees in every workplace. The construction site in Miranda does not have such a committee in place for the women workers employed.