by Shri Girish Bhave, Joint Secretary, Kamgar Ekta Samiti (KEC)
In the recently concluded two day strike of the Maharashtra State Electricity workers, an important feature was the participation of organizations of contract workers working in different departments of the state government power sector companies. Demands related with contract workers like job security, priority while filling up vacancies for permanent posts, etc. were part of the Demand Charter which was jointly placed before state government officials by the Maharashtra Rajya Veej Kamgar, Abhiyante, Adhikari Sangharsh Samiti and the Maharashtra Rajya Veej Kantrati Kamgar Sanghatana Sanyukta Kruti Samiti.
In the struggle against privatisation of electricity in Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, J&K and Chandigarh etc. as well as in Banks, Coal, Steel and some other sectors we have seen similar unity. This is a very important aspect which is not only important for a successful struggle against privatisation, but also from the long term perspective of the working class movement.
Especially after 1991-92, the process of recruiting workers on contract basis in public sector enterprises accelerated. Various excuses were used to justify this. Some specific jobs and in many cases whole departments within a public sector enterprise were declared as “non-core” and handed over to private contractors. In pursuit of maximising profits, the private contractors employed only contract workers. Housekeeping, canteen / kitchen, security services, maintenance, etc. in most of the public sector enterprises have been handed over to private contractors over the years. Even in other departments which the government could not classify as non-core, gradually permanent posts of retired employees were surrendered and contract workers were employed instead of permanent employees. This is also visible in almost all public sector enterprises. But the effect of this has been so severe over the years, as can be seen from the following table, as of 31st March 2020, in the Central Public Sector Enterprises, out of approximately 14.8 lakh workers, only around 9.21 lakh are permanent and the rest (around 5.5 lakh) are contract employees. As can be seen from the Table, the pace has accelerated especially after 2013. In the last 2 years the situation has only worsened.
In other public sector enterprises belonging to Central and State governments there are tens of thousands of contract workers and the number of permanent employees is continuously reducing. For example in the power sector companies of Maharashtra alone there are more than 30 thousand contract employees. Similarly in various public sector banks there are lakhs of contract workers. The Indian Railways employ more than 4 lakh workers on contract basis.
We all know that taking advantage of the desperation of contract workers, managements use them to break strikes of workers. Contract workers are paid much less than permanent workers even for the same work. This also helps company managements to ensure that the wages of permanent workers can be artificially kept down by constantly using the threat of contract workers available. These kind of anti-worker policies are not only implemented assiduously by management of private companies but also by public sector companies.
Over the years various laws related with contractualization have been modified by governments of various parties and coalitions in such a manner that contractualization has been made more and more easy and legal fights against contractualization has been made more and more difficult. Unions, associations and organizations of permanent employees of the private as well as the public sector need to unite the contract workers and stand firmly behind them.
The struggle against privatisation of public sector enterprises will get tremendous strength by taking up demands of contract workers, especially the demand of abolition of contract system and making all the existing contract workers permanent. If contract workers join hands with permanent workers then it will be impossible for the managements to use them against one another to break strikes. Together both of them can successfully paralyse the services and bring the management to its knees.