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‘How can we let garbage pickers win?’: NLU Delhi housekeeping staff, students respond with video, appeal vs admin’s offer of alt jobs

NLU Delhi workers appeal to administration, rejecting offers of alternate employment
NLU Delhi workers appeal to administration, rejecting offers of alternate employment

The NLU Delhi students fighting for the continued employment at NLU Delhi of up to 55 housekeeping staff, via a third party contractor, have made an emotional video appeal and a written rebuttal to the university’s claim that it had “taken a decision to help on a purely humanitarian basis” by making “arrangements of their employment in the nearby areas”.

NLU Delhi had noted in a statement to students, faculty and media on Saturday (27 June) that it was taking the step purely as an “informal and non-binding” measure to “immediately help those who are in need of employment”, but the video and written note by students took strong objection to this claim.

In the video (view full 5 minute video below or on YouTube), one of the workers, wearing a protective mask, said: "[If the university] gets us jobs at alternate sites, who will take responsibility if we are removed in 4 days or 2 months?”

Another member of the housekeeping staff added: “This offer [of alternate employment] was put before us even 6 months back in which some workers were to be retained and some were to be provided jobs outside the university. That offer is not acceptable to us today and it was unacceptable to us back then as well.

"[The offer states that] 10 workers will be retained, where will the others go? Even after working for 12 years at this college, if we can be removed then what is the guarantee that the workers at alternate sites will not be removed [in a few days]? They won’t pay us on time, they will remove us in a few days, they will find defects in our work. What will we do then?”

She added: "[After 12 years of service] if you can break our trust, then we have no hopes from others. Today, it has been 6 months since we were removed, you [administration] never asked, how are we faring? How are we living [in poverty]? How are we running out families? Now after 6 months, you remember us for alternative employment. I do not understand this.”

Others added that the order of Delhi government's labour ministry had not been followed by NLU Delhi, that they had all spent considerable money fighting the change of contractor and suffered numerous personal hardships.

Furthermore, they said, the new contract itself was illegal since it had reduced the number of housekeeping staff, despite the number of students and work had grown.

NLU Delhi's statement

On Saturday, the university had made the following statement:

It has been brought to our notice that some of the Housekeeping staff members who were earlier working with White Fox or Golden Companies hired by the University are facing employment crisis as these Companies seem to have failed to take enough care of these workers after the completion of their Contract in the University. Notably, the University has already placed almost half of the old housekeeping staff with the present contractor in the University and a few of them are reportedly working at various other places.

For the remaining staff, the University has taken a decision to help on a purely humanitarian basis. It is hereby notified that University, in consultation with certain service providers including the present one, will make the arrangements of their employment in the nearby areas as per the applicable, reasonable, and appropriate terms and conditions. Purely, informal and non-binding in nature, this measure shall immediately help those who are in need of employment. It will be the most effective way to redress the problems that they are reportedly facing.

We would request all concerned to please share this message with the housekeeping staff members and pursue them to register their names with the University so that their placement can be appropriately helped.

Students respond

However, the students, who have organised as the NLUD Workers-Students Solidarity group, have replied today (emphasis theirs):

On 27.06.2020, NLU-Delhi offered to make arrangements for employment of the remaining Housekeeping Staff outside the University after consulting certain service providers.

Despite having direct access to the workers, the University administration made this communication to the faculty, student body and media portals. More than helping the workers, the offer is geared towards publicising the University’s ‘magnanimity’. Further, the university has been repeating the same hollow offer over and again, and never answered the concerns raised by the workers in response to that offer. Not only this, after hearing the concerns of the workers and illegalities in the present contract, the same offer was also rejected by the Hon’ble Minister of Labour, Mr. Gopal Rai. Notwithstanding the sheer repetitiveness of the present offer, the concerned workers were conveyed the present offer. PFA the response of the workers (video and statement in Hindi)

Firstly, we must refresh the memory of everyone concerned. A similar offer was made to the workers and promptly rejected by them in clear terms. The reason was apparent fear of victimisation by RMG (under whom such alternate employment was offered) and uncertainty of such employment. The present offer suffers from the same vagueness and lack of any accountability towards the well-being of the workers.

Secondly, this rather abrupt and delayed offer is an attempt to side-line the illegality of RMG’s exploitative contract and the related concerns of the workers. The directions dated 17.06.2020 were issued after due consideration of the relevant documents and arguments from the University’s representatives, and as such determined that the contract with RMG is illegal. The present offer is made, maintaining absolute silence on illegality of RMG’s contract- almost as a way of pushing the glaring illegality into oblivion (which is the cause of suffering of the workers).

Thirdly, this is not the first time the University has been made aware of the hardships of the workers. The students have written innumerable emails on the same to the administration. The only time that the University chooses to see their hardships is when there is an Order in their favour. On the 19th of June 2020, the workers approached the University to seek the implementation of the said directions and resolve the issue. The University refused to even have a word with the workers, and also remained silent on the damning spectacle of illegal detention of a student and a worker (both female) from the University gates. Not long ago, the NLUD Administration raised questions such as ‘Where is the hardship?’ in their email and press release.

The University’s humanitarian initiatives would be much better accomplished by expediting the implementation of the same order. Also, the University could utilise their present offer for the workers deployed under RMG, should they face similar hardships on account of this illegal contract. We hope they do not have to undergo any such struggle for no fault of theirs.

In light of the same, NLUD Workers-Students Solidarity, supportive of the unanimous response of the workers, turns down the offer of the Administration and urges them to exercise its powers to implement the Directions by the Labor Minister without causing any further delay, if the concerns and autonomy of the workers were to be honoured. We wish to reiterate that in the face of an unprecedented crisis, the workers have held their ground with utmost dignity and strength. The workers shall not trade respectful recognition of the hard-won outcome of their struggle for their rights, for hollow ‘charity’ from the University.

We insist that the University administration channel their efforts towards expediting the implementation of the present directions of the Hon’ble Labour Minister. Kindly let us know what is the progress with respect to the implementation of the Directions dated 17.06.2020, and what is the stage of deliberations before the EC/GC members. Also, kindly make public the details of the representations made to the members of the Executive/Governing Council, and the Hon’ble Chancellor.

NLUD Workers-Students Solidarity

Workers frustrated at lack of university concessions after 6-month long struggle
Workers frustrated at lack of university concessions after 6-month long struggle

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