Thousands of contract workers are employed by different contractors from various parts of the country, in the two bases of the Indian Navy under the Southern Naval Command, in Kochi and Kannur in Kerala. They are recruited for services such as housekeeping, as sanitation workers and for other jobs in the two naval bases. Many of them continue to remain contract workers even after working for twenty years!
The Southern Naval Command Contract Workers Union has highlighted the pathetic condition of these workers at their state conference held on September 10. They have also repeatedly raised their problems with the Deputy Commissioner of Labour (Central).
These contract workers are denied the statutory minimum wages. They have no job security and no social security measures. According to a notification issued by the Union government, they are eligible for wages of Rs 617 per day, which is supposed to be revised every six months. However, workers employed by several contract companies have complained that they are not being paid these wages.
Nor are the workers receiving in their accounts the provident fund (PF) deducted from the workers’ wages by the contractors. According to the workers, the contractors deduct 12% of the wages from the workers. Instead of contributing 13% to their respective PF accounts, the contractors refrain from paying the amount to the accounts. This leads to a 25% loss of monthly earnings of the workers.
The workers are particularly agitated over the fact that the principal employer, the Indian Navy, has persistently refused to address the workers’ concerns and punish the contractors for their failure to fulfil the officially prescribed conditions. Most of the contractors’ companies do not have registered local offices and are not registered with the Central Labour Commissioner Office. In most cases, the contractors and the workers do not get to see each other. The workers are unable to raise their issues with the contractor. The contractors terminate the contracts without providing the workers their due benefits. The union has to undertake the tedious procedure of contacting the contractor, the primary employer (i.e. the Indian Navy) and the regional labour commissioner for settlement of disputes and claims of the workers. The contractor as well as the principal employer repeatedly do not appear for the conciliation proceedings, causing delay in settlement of the workers’ dues.
The agitated workers have requested the principal employer, the Indian Navy, to pay the workers as per the Contract Labour Regulations and Abolition Act, Section 21(4), if the contractor fails to pay the wages on time. They have also resolved to carry out a sustained struggle demanding living wages, implementation of a bonus act and are urging the Navy to prosecute the contractor companies.