In August, Bajrang Yadav was asked to climb an electric pole for rectifying some fault in the low-tension power distribution line. The 25-year-old, a contract employee with the Lucknow Electricity Supply Administration (LESA), was electrocuted on the job. He was rushed to a local private hospital where he was under treatment for three months, incurring a bill of more than Rs 4 lakh.
So far, Yadav has not received a paisa from his contractor or employer. When he was hired, the contractor got him to sign some papers, apparently an insurance form, and said that he or his family will get money in case of death or injury, but he got nothing. In fact, his family had to borrow to pay his medical bills.
Surendra Kumar is working as a lineman for LESA. He has been sick for more than a month and his younger brother has been working in the Chinhat area under Gomti Nagar distribution division in his place. Kumar’s mother, a Class IV employee at a local school, is paying for his medical treatment.
As per the deal between the Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation Limited (UPPCL) and the contractor, workers should get their salary in the first week of every month. But Kumar has not received any payment for the past four months (LESA is a unit of the Central UP Power Corporation, a subsidiary of the UPPCL).
However, contractor JB Singh claims that as per the agreement with the UPPCL, a contractor has to pay the salary only by the 15th of every month. But he admits that there is no provision for medical insurance and the maximum payment in case of death is Rs 1.5 lakh.
These incidents highlight the plight of workers in Uttar Pradesh, where lakhs of jobs in government departments, public sector undertakings and local bodies have been outsourced to contract labourers.
In all such institutions, there are three categories of employees: permanent employees who get the benefits of all labour laws and government rules, including the Pay Commission; those employed by the government on a contract basis, who are denied benefits such as medical insurance, sick leave and pension; and outsourced employees, whose services are hired by the government from placement firms or contractors.
The unofficial policy of the state government and the public sector undertakings has financial implications for the government as it is saving several hundred crores of rupees every year by hiring more and more employees on a contract basis or through outsourcing companies.
The UPPCL holds the government responsible because there has been a ban on recruitment for the past 25 years even as 10 percent of the staff retire every year.
“In 2000, when the state government implemented reforms in the power sector and the electricity board was unbundled into three separate units — generation, transmission and distribution — we had more than 1 lakh employees,” says AP Mishra, managing director of UPPCL. “Today, this number has come down to 30,000. As many as 65,000 posts — for coolies, lineman and graduate engineers — are vacant. So, we have no option but to induct the bare minimum manpower on a contract basis for maintaining power supply across Uttar Pradesh.
“There are at least two contractors each in the state’s 75 districts. More than 40,000 contract labourers are working as lineman and sub-station operators.”
Mishra admits that the UPPCL pays nearly Rs 250 crore to contractors every year. “Had we hired 40,000 workers as regular employees, we would have been incurring an annual expenditure of Rs 1,000 crore on salaries alone, which does not include other benefits,” he says.
Adds SD Sharma, general manager (industrial relations) UPPCL, “As per the current pay scales, the cost to company of a skilled labourer is Rs 35,000-40,000 per month and the rate for an unskilled labourer is Rs 25,000 per month. After assessing our staff requirement until 2016-17, we have sought the government’s permission for recruitment in all categories. Right now, our priority is to pay for the power that we buy from various sources.
“Close to 150 contract employees die every year due to accidents while working on power distribution lines and other reasons. According to the rules, an immediate payment of Rs 1.5 lakh is given to the next of kin. A proposal to provide pension benefits to contract employees as per the provisions of the Contract Labour Act is under consideration of the UPPCL.”
Even in municipal bodies, there are three categories of sanitations workers. The lucky ones are the 90,000 permanent employees who enjoy the benefits of the Sixth Pay Commission. The rest of them are 65,000 contract employees and 40,000 outsourced employees. While a regular employee is paid between Rs 15,000 and 20,000 per month, the contract worker gets only 2,130 and the outsourced employee gets less than 2,000.
“As per the contract entered into with the Lucknow Nagar Nigam (LNN) by the private company or the outsourced firm, the employees should get paid at least Rs 7,000, but this rule is never enforced,” says Durgesh Valmiki, former vice-chairman of the National Sanitation Employees Commission. “Every month, the LNN pays more than Rs 1 crore to the private company, but the money is pocketed by a chain of officials and others.
“The Uttar Pradesh Local Bodies and Sanitation Employees Joint Front has given a call for a big rally in Lucknow on 16 December. Our sole demand is to end the three-tier classification of sanitation workers. We are not demanding money as per the Sixth Pay Commission but an end to the exploitation by contractors.”
A similar state of affairs prevails in the state’s rural development department where more than 10,000 contract labourers are working as rozgar sahayaks in the primary education, social welfare and health sectors.
In the health department, thousands have been recruited as contract workers for the implementation of the National Rural Health Mission and allied schemes. They don’t get any benefit under the existing labour laws and are subject to exploitation by the greedy contractors.
‘Outsourcing government jobs is a legacy of the Kalyan Singh regime’
As the spotlight falls on the problems faced by contract workers in Uttar Pradesh, Labour Minister Shahid Manzoor tells Virendra Nath Bhatt why the previous BJP and BSP governments are to blame for the plight of the contract labourers and those working on outsourced jobs.
Edited excerpts from the interview •
Who is to blame for the problems faced by contract workers?
The Samajwadi Party government is not to be blamed for the problems faced by the workers who were appointed by various departments on contract or through outsourcing agencies. Our government inherited this problem. We never encouraged the employment of people on a contract basis. Instead, we are all for the recruitment of regular employees. In 1991, it was the then bjp government led by Kalyan Singh that had started the practice of outsourcing jobs to contract staff and the government departments directly appointing staff on contract. In the same year, the Congress government led by PV Narasimha Rao at the Centre had unleashed economic reforms. Both the bjp and the Congress are votaries of the capitalist economic order, which is friendly towards industrialists and detrimental to the interests of labourers and the working class. Our party chief, Mulayam Singh Yadav, had opposed the bjp government’s move to fill the vacancies in the government departments by appointing staff on a contract basis, but the chief minister ignored our protests.
What is the labour ministry doing to assuage the concerns of the contract workers?
I am aware of the problems faced by the contract and outsourced workers of the UPPCL (Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation Limited) as well as the sanitation workers of the urban local bodies and other government departments. So far, I have not conducted any review of the status of the contract and outsourced employees in the UPPCL and the urban local bodies. In fact, I cannot conduct such a review because it will be improper for me to review the working of other departments. But I believe that these departments are covered by labour laws.
Has your government formulated any policy or issued broad guidelines for governing the appointments on a contract basis and outsourcing?
I am not aware of the state government’s policy regarding this matter. All labour laws are applicable on those working on a contract basis and those hired by outsourcing agencies. Government departments, public sector undertakings and the private sector are all required to implement labour laws such as the Minimum Wages Act, provident fund, accidental insurance and employees state insurance. If any worker from a government department, public sector undertaking or urban local body employed on a contract basis complains to the labour department about the violation of the laws and the person is not getting the benefits, then we would certainly act. So far, no such case has come before the department, to my knowledge.
What will be the government’s next step?
More than 16 lakh workers are registered with the Uttar Pradesh Construction Labour Welfare Board (UPCLWB) where workers in 35 professional categories are registered. We have launched a drive to register all contract and outsourcing firm employees in the board and provide them the benefits of the labour and social security laws. The SP government has taken a series of measures for the welfare of the working class, including filling the large number of vacancies in primary and secondary schools and the police department. The government is going to launch a scheme of providing subsidised food for workers registered with the labour department under the UPCLWB. The pilot project of the scheme will be launched in Lucknow on 22 November, the 75th birthday of SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav. Initially, the scheme will cover only 3,000 workers. But it will be extended to the entire state with the target of covering 15 lakh workers. Under the scheme, subsidised lunch at the rate of 10 will be given to each worker. The cost of lunch for one worker is 25 and the remaining 15 will be borne by the state government.