New Delhi- In the precincts of Delhi's Burari Hospital, sanitation workers, currently seated in protest, have levied grave accusations against the hospital authorities. Persistent issues involving mistreatment, reassignment to alternative work locations, and delayed wage disbursement have compelled contract-based female sanitation workers to embark on a sit-in strike since Monday. Allegedly, salary deductions have also been imposed upon them, intensifying their discontent.
These employed female contractual sanitation workers, actively engaged within the hospital, accuse the hospital authorities of displaying insolence, transferring them to alternative duty stations arbitrarily, and failing to make timely salary payments. This is not the first instance where such allegations have been raised by female contractual workers.
Harish, a legal professional and a member of the executive committee of the Safai Kamgar Union, revealed that the sanitation workers have not received their salaries since November of the preceding year. Despite ongoing dialogues with Delhi's Health Minister, Saurabh Bhardwaj, no tangible actions have been taken to address their concerns.
" Several months ago, an incident of sexual exploitation and harassment involving female sanitation workers at Burari Hospital came to light. Regrettably, a similar incident has resurfaced, with female sanitation workers reportedly facing harassment in various forms, including threats of reassignment and salary reductions," Harish stated.
Harish highlighted the distressing situation faced by the sanitation workers, emphasizing that their salaries have been pending for over a month. With a workforce exceeding 100 individuals, predominantly comprising women from the Dalit community who rely on rented accommodations, the financial strain is acutely felt. Harish empathetically pointed out that when the primary earners of households are denied their wages, it paints a grim picture of their overall well-being and the challenges they grapple with in their daily lives.
Expressing the profound helplessness of the female workers, Harish outline their vulnerability, precipitating the decision to embark on a strike. Despite their attempts to engage with hospital management for assurances, neither supervisors nor administrative officers have extended any concrete commitments. Frustrated by the lack of a direct response, they have resolved to initiate an indefinite strike with effect from Tuesday.
Notably, in December of the preceding year, a female cleaning worker on a contractual basis had bravely come forward, accusing her manager and three supervisors of molestation and harassment, joined by two other employees. In response, Delhi Health Minister Saurabh Bhardwaj had formed a committee to probe the allegations of mistreatment faced by female contract workers. Regrettably, similar distressing incidents persist, echoing the urgent need for a remedy to the recurring challenges faced by women employees.
Harish also apprise that presently, all cleaning staff at Burari Hospital are employed under the "Global Venture" company. There is an urgent plea for the removal of this contracting entity, citing its predecessor, the "Kartikeya" company. The transition between the two companies occurred last year within a short span of six to seven months. During the tenure of Kartikeya Company, serious allegations of open sexual harassment against female workers were reported, leading to a collective outcry and subsequent FIR against the accused. However, the present predicament involves a distinct form of harassment under the management of the new company.
In the year 2020, amid the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal inaugurated the Burari Hospital, initially boasting 450 beds, later expanded to accommodate 700 beds.
Satyaveer, a sanitation worker with nearly two and a half years of service at Burari Hospital, disclosed to The Mooknayak the perpetual lack of clarity regarding the basic salary structure. Despite being assured of a monthly remuneration of Rs 17.5 thousand by the Managing Director (MD), Satyaveer's last received salary amounted to Rs 14,600. The initial remuneration offered by Global Venture was a meager Rs 9.5 thousand, an inadequacy vehemently contested by the workers.
Expressing the collective demands of the workers, Satyaveer emphasized the pivotal need for timely salary disbursement, continuity in work assignments without arbitrary transfers, and the imperative transfer of supervisors involved in persistent torment.
Babli, an experienced worker at Burari Hospital for nearly four years, recounted to The Mooknayak the harrowing experiences of harassment faced by women in the workplace. She narrated threats of reassignment and false assurances of impending salary disbursement. Allegedly, the officials accused of harassment are freely roaming, posing an imminent threat to the vulnerable workforce. The less educated or illiterate women are purportedly subjected to lewd comments and obscene statuses by these officials.
Babli lamented a lack of transparency regarding basic salary information, attributing the alleged salary cuts to incomplete duty allocations. New supervisors seemingly rotate weekly, exacerbating the confusion and the workers' struggles.
Critically, Babli pointed out the conspicuous absence of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who inaugurated the hospital during the pandemic but has not visited since. She revealed that threats are being issued to workers participating in the strike, including expulsion from the premises and exclusion from the new tender.
Another female sweeper echoed the sentiments of intimidation faced by the striking workers, asserting that no officer has approached them since the commencement of the strike. The irregularity of salary disbursement, occurring at two-month intervals, compounds the distress for these workers. The strike remains steadfast until rightful salaries are received, and normal work operations are restored.
In response to the escalating crisis, The Mooknayak sought insight from Ashish Goyal, MD of Burari Hospital. Goyal attributed the delay in salary disbursement to technical issues with the Delhi government server, assuring that salaries would be released promptly once the matter is resolved. In vehement defense against accusations of withholding full payments to sanitation workers, Goyal urged the provision of evidence to substantiate such claims. Regarding allegations of mistreatment and harassment, he emphasized the necessity of written complaints for proper investigation, pointing to prior instances where FIRs were lodged in response to formal complaints.