On Sunday, October 30, the government of India’s northern State of Haryana accepted the demands of 40,000 sanitation workers who were on strike for 11 days against the non-payment of their salaries for several months. The workers were also demanding regularization of their jobs by ending the contractual system, along with payment of risk allowance and provision of safety equipment.
According to Naresh Kumar Shastri, president of the Nagarpalika Karmchari Sangh, Haryana, the State government used “force and foul means to sabotage the strike” instead of resolving the demands of sanitation workers.
The authorities were concerned as the protests also drew support from firefighters. Locals affected by the increasing heaps of garbage across various cities were also putting pressure on the authorities to resolve the workers’ issues.
Campaigning under the banner of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), union leaders had initially called for a two-day strike from October 19. However, the strike continued for 11 days as the demands of workers were not addressed.
“The State authorities should provide equal wages for equal work and provide us with regular jobs or we will start dumping garbage in front of houses,” said Sunita, vice president of Safai Karamcharis (Sanitation Workers) Union, Gohana, Sonipat. The president of Sonipat district’s Safai Karamchari Union, Beermati, had also threatened that workers will resort to dumping garbage near the houses of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders if the authorities continued to ignore their demands.
According to union leader Ramesh Attri, around 40,000 employees of 11 municipal corporations, 57 municipal committees, and 22 municipal councils went on strike. Union leaders had warned that the strike will continue until their demands were resolved.
40,000 sanitation workers in north India state of Haryana have been on strike since Oct 19. Authorities refused workers’ demands: regularisation of jobs by ending the contractual system, payment of risk allowance and provision of safety equipment. Firefighters joined the strike.
— Asian Labour Review (@asianlabour) October 28, 2022
Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar had appealed to the sanitation workers to resume the cleanliness drive ahead of the festival of Diwali. However, workers responded by observing a black Diwali and took out a protest march to highlight their demands. They raised slogans against the authorities for being adamant and using force against their movement.
Sanitation workers have in the past shown resentment against the authorities for using frontline workers’ contribution during the COVID-19 pandemic without adequate recompense. In June 2021, the Haryana Rural Sanitation Workers Union accused Chief Minister Khattar of failing to pay any heed to the long-pending demands of sanitation workers, which include provision of adequate safety gear, insurance, and the other risk allowance at the workplace.
Meanwhile, the Safai Karamcharis Andolan (Sanitation Workers’ Movement) in Jharkhand completed 150 days of the campaign #StopKillingUs on October 12. The campaign was aimed at raising awareness about the frequent deaths of sanitation workers in sewers and septic tanks across India.
On July 19, Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Virendra Kumar stated in the parliament that at least 17 such deaths had been reported in 2022, and 347 in the last five years. In the latest case, four sanitation workers lost their lives after inhaling toxic gas while cleaning a septic tank in Haryana’s Faridabad on October 5.