On May 19, a student body at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, released a statement saying that the college hasn’t been paying its maintenance staff for months and has failed at treating them with dignity and respect during the ongoing lockdown owing to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The staff, according to the statement, includes housekeeping workers, mess workers and construction workers – most of whom are contractual labourers.
The student body, IIT Bombay for Justice, has demanded that the institution pays wages to the construction workers in full, including those who have left the campus. The institution should also make “safe travel arrangements” for workers who want to go home, the students said.
No wages, no ration.
“The worst hit among the workers are, perhaps, the 700 odd construction workers who live in different labour camps around the campus. Almost half of them have not been paid their wages since February, and since some weeks now, they have also not received the kharchi or the petty cash amounts that other cash amounts that otherwise help them tide through the month,” said the statement.
According to the students, the institute will not pay the mess workers their dues for the months of April and May as these months are usually “vacation” period.
A lot of housekeeping staff have also not got their salaries in full since March, students say.
The students have also alleged that those who tried to distribute ration to the workers were barred from doing so because the institute wanted to “safeguard its reputation and public image.”
According to the students, the administration claimed that those bringing ration could spread coronavirus, that they were “pampering the workers” and that the workers might start asking for more if the administration doesn’t stop the outsiders distributing ration.
The student body further added that the administration has set up a donation fund to pay some amount to the workers which, students say, doesn’t cover the workers’ salaries due for months or those who have already left the campus.
However, according to a letter accessed by the Hindustan Times, the institute’s deputy director A.K. Suresh had issued a letter on April 29 saying that the institute has released salaries to workers employed on campus.
“In respect of mess workers, except three messes, for all other messes payments are up to date and the delay in the case of these three messes are being addressed expeditiously,” said the letter.
Similarly, the dean of infrastructure and planning B.V.S. Vishvanadhan told the paper that the Central Public Works Departments and IIT Bombay, through the contractors, have ensured payment of wages to all labourers as per the government regulations.
“Efforts are also being made to help labourers in getting their travel arranged through the state government. In addition to kharchi, two major contractors have also arranged dry ration for two weeks for all labourers. In addition, one meal per day is being arranged for about 250 labourers through Atal Aahar Yojana/Roti Bank,” he added.
Featured image credit: PTI